AstraZeneca recipients frustrated after being forced to cancel international travel plans

AstraZeneca recipients frustrated after being forced to cancel international travel plans-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A vial of the Covishield/AstraZeneca vaccine. Some countries are not recognizing the vaccine, which was offered to thousands of Albertans, forcing travellers to change plans. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Some Albertans who received the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine are having to cancel their international travel plans, again.

Canada recommends mixing and matching AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines

Several countries and tour operators, including many cruise lines, don’t recognize the Covishield version of AstraZeneca, which is made in India. Others are not accepting travellers who received different types of vaccines for their first and second shots.

Allison Wilson is organizing a sailing trip in Croatia for 40 of her family members and friends — all Albertans. They were supposed to leave in September, but before making the final payment, she decided to have one final look at the immunization requirements for each country. That’s when she discovered the issue with Covishield.

It turns out nine of the 40 people in her group received the Covishield shot. Rather than risk being stranded in Europe, the group decided to cancel the trip — for a third time.

“We did everything that we could to travel and to get the borders open and to move on with our lives,” said Wilson. “We were told to get the first shot, which was AstraZeneca. We were told mixing was OK. And it’s really frustrating that we’ve done everything right, we’ve listened and done it all properly, and now we’re being punished for it.”

Wilson says her group has lost thousands of dollars in flight costs with European airlines because their original travel credits are now expiring.

Hundreds of thousands potentially affected

According to Alberta Health, Alberta has administered 294,206 doses of Covishield. Of those, 258,267 are first doses and 35,939 are second doses.

There are currently no immunization restrictions for visitors entering the United States, although some private events, such as shows and concerts, may have different rules.

A Calgary travel agent says restrictions around the world change daily. She’s dealing with each of her clients on a case-by-case basis.

“I haven’t had a lot of people with a mixed vaccine phone to book international travel,” said Gayle White, owner of Sundial Travel. “I think those clients are sitting and waiting because every country is changing daily.”

No third dose in Alberta

Last month, Quebec announced it will offer third doses of COVID-19 vaccines to travellers whose vaccination status isn’t recognized. Alberta’s health minister says no decision has been reached yet on whether it will do the same. In an email, an Alberta Health spokesperson told CBC News: “We are prioritizing vaccines for those who are not yet fully vaccinated. With a global shortage, it would not be appropriate to offer additional vaccines to fully immunized individuals looking to vacation while so many others still await even a first dose.”

Health Canada is not currently recommending a third dose, and still encourages Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel.

Responsibility of the traveller

Wilson says her group is confused by the rules and why they haven’t been communicated to travellers. She says she learned of Europe’s immunization requirements through a news article.

“The airlines didn’t provide any messaging. The government didn’t provide any messaging. People who are administering the immunizations didn’t provide any messaging,” Wilson said. “I just don’t want to see this happen to other people. I don’t want to see someone get on a flight and get over there and get turned away.”

Air Canada told CBC News “customers are responsible for understanding and meeting the entry requirements for all destinations they may travel to.”

The Alberta government’s website advises travellers to “check the policies of individual countries, state/local governments, cruise lines and/or venues and events before travelling.”

The Croatia sailing trip has now been postponed to next summer, when Wilson hopes there will be more clarity on the vaccines and international travel requirements.

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