As Open Jaw reported this week, “Canada Allows Vaccination Travel – But Conditions Apply”
The Public Health Agency of Canada had just confirmed, “that federal government regulations do permit Canadian residents to leave the country for the purposes of getting a vaccine without having to undergo quarantine restrictions – as long as certain conditions are met,” since the federal government considers getting a COVID-19 vaccination to be “essential.”
But maybe the most important part of Open Jaw’s headline was “Conditions Apply.”
Because since then, the fur’s been flying, with Canadians and media recounting conflicting – and sometimes frustrating – border experiences.
Some reports, like “Easier than going to buy a loaf of bread’: Canadians keep travelling to U.S. for COVID-19 vaccines,” quote Canadians who say how easy-breezy it’s been to get their shot in the U.S.
So prevalent apparently has the practice been, that a CTV Toronto report says that Ontario, “is calling on the federal government to implement a process to track Canadians who have been vaccinated outside of the country. The Ministry of Health said Wednesday that it will rely on proof of vaccination provided by the individual to support booking an appointment for a booster dose, if needed.”
Yet other media reports talk about Canadians in search of vaccination being turned back by American agents at the border.
“Confusion abounds after U.S. border agency bars entry to Canadians looking to get vaccinated,” says a different CTV headline.
It quotes a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson saying that Canadians attempting to cross the border just to get the shot will be turned back. “Travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions,” they told CTV, pointing out that the border is closed to non-essential travel.
In the CBP’s view, a Canadian looking for a COVID vaccine doesn’t fall under America’s definition of essential travel, with some reports seeming to confirm this statement, recounting experiences of Canadians en route to the U.S. for vaccination whose doctor’s referral letters have been disregarded by CBP agents turning them away from the border.
To make things more confusing, the CBP spokesperson also added that, “if the person enters the U.S. for “legitimate travel reasons,” and they receive a vaccine incidental to their trip, “it is not part of the overall admissibility determination,” seeming to indicate it’s OK to get a shot in the U.S., as long as you have another, ‘essential’ reason for being there.
Public Health Agency of Canada Retracts Statement
If the waters were not now already muddy enough, CBC is now reporting that Canada’s federal government may be walking back its statement earlier this week, and that travel across the border – under any conditions – is not actually considered “essential travel” and Canadians doing so may need to quarantine anyway.
In a statement late Wednesday, the CBC quotes the Public Health Agency of Canada advising that quarantine exemptions are not intended for those crossing the border to be vaccinated.
“Testing and quarantine exemptions for travellers returning to Canada after receiving essential medical services in a foreign country was not intended to be used for those seeking to receive a COVID-19 vaccination,” a PHAC spokesperson said in an email. “This provision is in place to allow Canadians who are seeking life-saving medical treatment outside of Canada.”
The statement further added, “COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in Canada.”
All of which seems to suggest that, if there was a window of opportunity for Canadians urgently seeking vaccination in the U.S. in advance of their place in the queue here at home, it may now have been firmly closed.