Vancouver clinic providing third COVID-19 dose to travellers with mixed vaccines

Dr. Penny Ballem, head of British Columbia's COVID-19 vaccination program, speaks with reporter Richard Zussman about whether the province was aware of a travel clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health offering third booster doses before the government announced its plan.

On the day the B.C. government rolled out its plan to administer third doses of COVID-19 vaccine, come reports that some people have jumped the line.

Only those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or who have waited more than eight months since a second shot are eligible for a third dose.

But multiple people have told Global News that they received a third dose at the Vancouver Coastal Health Travel Clinic.

Dr. Penny Ballem, the provincial lead for the vaccine rollout, says the clinic can provide third doses to those travelling but only on compassion or essential grounds.

“We knew as soon as we let it out, it would be on social media and people would come. The minister and Dr. Henry were clear, we were not providing third doses for travel,” Ballem said.

“We were very, very clear, we were not providing to those who wanted to travel for fun. It was for compassionate reasons or essential work reasons.”

But travellers Global News spoke to said they were not required to provide additional documentation to demonstrate travel.

The province says the clinics provided “very few” vaccines although none of the health authorities were required to report back to Ballem on how many third shots were administered.

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“I work as a professional and often have to travel outside the country on business and was surprised to learn from some of my colleagues that also had the AstraZeneca/MRNA mix that they were able to secure a third, and matched, mRNA dose from the VCH travel clinic,” reads an email sent to Global News, which is protecting the writer’s identity because of the nature of their job.

“On the day I got my third shot many people in the clinic were from Vancouver Island and all had been forced to take the ferry to Vancouver to access this service. I find it egregious that there is ostensibly this secret program to get a third matched dose that I only found out through word of mouth.”

British Columbians who received mixed vaccines have expressed concern as to whether certain countries will recognize them as fully vaccinated and allow them to enter.

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The email writer said they would like to see B.C. create more clinics offering third doses for travel to better align with other provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

But provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has so far been insistent that international travel rules will eventually evolve to recognize people who received mixed vaccines as fully immunized.

On Oct. 15, the United States announced plans to classify Canadians as fully immunized if they received mixed doses.

Ballem told Global News the decision on which shots should be administered was left up to each health authority.

“We left it to each of the health authorities to assess the essential nature of the work travel, and so I can’t comment,” she said. “I don’t know what the conditions were for these particular cases. But I think it’s a judgment call.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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