Much to consider before approving third vaccine dose for travellers: Doctor, NDP
REGINA -- As the Government of Saskatchewan considers potential third COVID-19 vaccine doses for travellers heading to countries where Astra-Zeneca or mixed doses are not recognized, experts say there are many variables to consider.
Earlier this week, Quebec approved a third dose for travellers whose original doses weren’t approved in other countries at their own risk.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Paul Merriman said the decision to allow third doses in Saskatchewan would be up to Dr. Saqib Shahab, the chief medical health officer.
The health minister emphasized the extra doses Quebec is offering have nothing to do with vaccine efficacy and only are about ease of movement for those travelling internationally.
"It's not about how effective the vaccines are, whether you got AstraZeneca, Moderna , or Pfizer or any combination of those, your level of protection is still the same. This is only specific to people that are travelling to countries that may have requirements that you have a double dose of the same vaccine," Merriman said.
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease specialist, said he understands why some people would like to see this option put on the table because the current international travel situation is complicated.
“Everybody has approved different vaccines, everybody has different indications for how to use those vaccines where some jurisdictions are allowing a mixing and matching approach, versus others that are not,” he said. “That’s just part of being in a pandemic.”
But he said the giving third doses purely for the sake of travel isn’t ideal.
“It isn’t really the best [optic] when you look at the big picture of global vaccine equity,” Dr. Wong said.
He said he’s hoping to see more guidelines on how to address these situations from national vaccine guideline groups in the near future.
“I don’t think it would be a very smart thing for provinces just to start making decisions on their own about how to do all of this, and have different rules for different people,” he said. “There’s implications around third doses in general and booster doses in general, so I don’t think you can just do one offs for people who want to travel.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by NDP leader Ryan Meili, who said the third dose is something worth looking into, but only under certain conditions.
“One, that it really is a barrier to essential travel. Two, that we have the vaccine available,” Meili said.
He said vaccine availability is the key point.
“We do need to be responsible global citizens as we see low vaccination rates and access to vaccines in places like South Africa and India and how bad that is making the outbreaks in those communities,” Meili said. “Is our travel, are our holidays more important than making sure that we get this virus under control around the world?”