Should Canadians get vaccinated abroad? Liberals, Tories skirt the issue but health experts encourage it

CBC News asked four federal parties and health experts whether Canadians abroad who have access to a COVID-19 vaccine should get it. While the Liberals and Conservatives were evasive, other federal leaders and health experts are encouraging such action.

NDP and Greens also in favour of Canadians getting vaccinated 'wherever they are in the world'

The Canada-U.S. Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, B.C., on April 24, 2019. While the federal Liberals and Conservatives were evasive about whether Canadians abroad who have access to a COVID-19 vaccine should get a shot, other federal leaders and health experts are encouraging such action. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The federal Liberals and Conservatives were both evasive when asked if Canadians abroad who have access to a COVID-19 vaccine should get a shot, but other federal leaders and health experts encourage such action if people get the opportunity.

CBC News posed the question to four federal parties and health experts: Should Canadians who are snowbirds, or who are out of the country for business or other reasons, take advantage of vaccines that may be available there?

Cole Davidson, a spokesman for federal Liberal Health Minister Patty Hadju, would not answer the question directly, saying only that they "encourage everyone to get vaccinated when it's their turn, but we've been clear: now is not the time to travel."

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole was similarly coy about whether Canadians should be getting inoculations outside of the country. He instead slammed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's  government for being "slow and incompetent when it comes to securing vaccines for Canadians.

In a statement to CBC News, O'Toole referred to the recent agreement in which North Dakota would administer shots to Manitoba truck drivers, teachers and other school employees, a deal he said "underscores the complete failure of the Trudeau government."

WATCH | Manitoba premier announces cross-border plan for COVID-19 vaccinations:

Manitoba announces cross-border agreement to get teachers, education staff vaccinated in North Dakota

7 months ago
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced a new, cross-border plan Thursday that will allow staff in Manitoba schools to access COVID-19 vaccines in North Dakota. Specifics have the plan have yet to be determined, he said, and will be shared in the coming days. 2:14

Currently around 35 per cent of the Canadian population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

On Thursday, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said that with future deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-Oxford, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, there should be more than enough supply on hand for everyone 12 and older to get one shot by the nation's birthday.

Still, the interval between second shots could be months. And with demand declining in the U.S., some Canadians are flying there to get their shots, Reuters reported. Some states do not require residency proof to get a COVID-19 vaccination, making it easier for Canadians to acquire a shot there.

Meanwhile, just this week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford approached the governor of Michigan about the possibility of having essential workers who cross the border from Canada vaccinated against COVID-19 stateside.

Should get vaccine 'wherever they are'

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, while accusing the government of failing to secure enough vaccines, said in a statement that "Canadians should get the vaccine when they can access it, wherever they are in the world."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says Canadians should get the vaccine when they can access it, 'wherever they are in the world.' (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said in a statement that Canadians shouldn't be travelling for any non-essential reason, which includes to get vaccinated abroad. 

"However, if someone is out of Canada is for an essential reason, or is currently resident in another country in which they are eligible to be vaccinated, then they should get vaccinated," she said.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University, said if someone could get a vaccine abroad and lower the risk to every Canadian, then so be it. 

'Rather have more fully vaccinated people'

Chagla said he knows stories of dual citizens getting their first Pfizer shot in Canada and driving to the U.S. for their second shot, and then returning to Canada. 

"People with needs can do it. But at the end of the day, who cares. People are getting vaccinated. I would rather have more fully vaccinated people here in Canada than not," he said.

"There's one less citizen in Canada that needs access to a vaccine and more that can be put into vulnerable communities that don't have."

Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at University Health Network in Toronto, said she too is fine with someone receiving a COVID-19 vaccination abroad, despite "all kinds of messiness" with the practice.

"There's queue jumping, there's the inequities ... and I wish they didn't exist," she said.

"I do believe that purely from that perspective of wanting to protect as many people as possible. I don't have a problem with it."

Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, said as long as people are following the public health rules and queues in those jurisdictions, "my view is a vaccine in the arm is always a good thing."


Mark Gollom


Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from John Paul Tasker, Reuters


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