Politics

Hajdu talks vaccine certificates as Tam looks to 'optimism' of inoculation rollout

As the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, Canada’s health minister says requiring a vaccine passport to travel internationally is a "very live" issue as more Canadians receive shots and countries consider loosening border restrictions.  

Tam optimistic about pandemic's future but says some health measures will linger

Canada looking into how to share unused vaccine doses with lagging countries

Rosemary Barton Live

1 month ago
10:53
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that Canada is looking into the process for redirecting its extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines to countries that need them. 10:53

As the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, Canada's health minister says requiring a vaccine passport to travel internationally is a "very live" issue as more Canadians receive shots and countries consider loosening border restrictions. 

"It's being discussed around the world. I'm a member of the G7 health ministers, we meet every couple weeks. This has been on our agenda," Patty Hajdu said Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

She said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra is also discussing the concept with international partners.

Some jurisdictions are looking to use proof of immunization against COVID-19 as a way to allow travel within and between countries. 

Last month, the World Health Organization ruled that national authorities should not require such certificates for travel because it's still unclear how well vaccines minimize transmission of the virus, a point Hajdu herself acknowledged.

The concept has also drawn criticism for privacy and equity concerns.

"The intent is to co-ordinate," Hajdu said. "You can imagine the confusion in international travel if there's different certifications that are required."

Tam 'optimistic' about pandemic's future

Providing proof of immunity is one of several issues under consideration as countries turn to mapping out the next steps of their pandemic response. 

In a separate interview, Canada's chief public health officer said Sunday she's increasingly optimistic about the future of the global health crisis — but cautions that some measures may stick around for months to come. 

"I think we can be buoyant by that more optimistic outlook because it is a pretty tremendous thing that we have, which is several, not just one, but several, really great vaccines," Dr. Theresa Tam told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton. 

WATCH | What still worries Dr. Theresa Tam one year into the COVID-19 pandemic:

What still worries Dr. Theresa Tam one year into the COVID-19 pandemic

Rosemary Barton Live

1 month ago
9:33
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that the government is closely monitoring the new coronavirus variants and how vaccines respond to them. She says public health measures need to be in place to bring cases down. 9:33

"But with that sense of optimism comes ... the need to just hang on in there for a bit longer, because I do think that if these vaccines are provided to as many people as possible, we can break the most severe consequences, the crisis phase of this pandemic."

Canada has now approved four COVID-19 vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines are two-dose shots, while the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single dose. 

Masks, distancing not going away soon

When asked how long Canadians should expect to keep up with mask wearing and physical distancing amid the country's vaccine rollout, Tam said such guidelines won't disappear any time soon. 

"These viruses come in invisible ways, and so we need to keep up those measures," Tam said, adding that while approved vaccines are effective at staving off the most serious outcomes of COVID-19, there are still those who may not be fully protected.

"With that in mind, I think these habits are going to continue for some time. But we want to stop the more restrictive measures as soon as possible."

A woman wears a face mask as she walks along a street in Montreal in February. Tam says mask wearing and other public health measures will likely continue in the months to come. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Avoid comparing vaccines

The country's inoculation campaign has picked up steam in recent weeks. On Friday, the federal government announced that manufacturer Pfizer had agreed to accelerate the delivery of 3.5 million doses of its vaccine.

Some provinces have also moved to delay the second dose of two-shot vaccines after new national recommendations were issued earlier this week. 

While the delay would allow more Canadians to receive their first jab, differing efficacy percentages between shots has led to a degree of public hesitancy over which inoculation is best.

Like other public health experts, Tam cautioned against comparing the efficacy of different vaccines head-to-head.

"What is the fundamental fact about these vaccines is that they are all very effective when it comes to preventing serious outcomes, such as hospitalizations ... really serious illness and many deaths as well," she said, adding that the millions of people who have been vaccinated worldwide is evidence of that.

"I think people should feel very confident as they go in, to get whatever vaccine is being offered to them, that they are really great for that purpose."

That's advice Hajdu also backed on Sunday.

"Take the first vaccine that you're offered," she said. "It's really, really important that you get protected from a really terrible case of COVID that could lead to your death."

Hajdu says she could have done many things differently

The health minister was also asked about comments she made just over one year ago, in which she said banning travel between Canada and China would do little to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"The long-term implication of shutting down borders is one, they're not very effective in controlling disease ... in fact, they're not effective at all," Hajdu said in February of last year.

Hajdu said those statements came from international health regulations, which she said still indicate that border measures are not entirely effective at halting transmission. 

"When I look back — as a new health minister following the advice of my department — of course, I think, there are many things I think I could have done differently," Hajdu said.

"The story is not done yet. The research will be done for decades. I just hope I am alive when we get a full analysis of what worked well and what didn't globally around the COVID-19 pandemic response.

For Tam, part of the story will end when she sees hospitalizations and deaths from the illness decline.

"That is really important. We have to monitor to make sure ... that the vaccine's effectiveness continues," she told Barton. "So I think that is where we will arrive at a good place, and we need the world to be around us there as well."

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raisa is a writer and producer with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. You can find her on Twitter at @R_SPatel.

With files from CBC's Christina Romualdo

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