COVID-19 restrictions lifted, but unvaccinated Canadians still can’t board planes or trains

Because she is not vaccinated against COVID-19, Tamika McIntosh of Brampton, Ont., was not allowed to board a plane to Jamaica last month to attend the funeral of his grandfather.

Now, McIntosh is combing through the news daily for any indication when Canada might lift its vaccination mandate for travelers so she can finally travel to Jamaica and pay her last respects.

“You don’t get closure when you can’t physically be there to say goodbye,” McIntosh said. “Until I can physically visit his grave and spend time there, that void will always be open.”

Canada’s vaccine mandate – which came into effect in November 2021 to increase vaccination rates – prevents unvaccinated Canadians from boarding commercial aircraft or trains in Canada to domestic destinations and international. Now that COVID-19 restrictions are rapidly easing, some unvaccinated Canadians are wondering why the federal government is still maintaining the mandate.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” McIntosh said. “I don’t have the right to mobility. I’m still stuck in a country and I can’t leave.”

Although the COVID-19 vaccines available in Canada have been deemed safe and effective by Health Canada and other regulators, McIntosh still has reservations about vaccination.

“I just feel like I have the right to choose,” she said.

Tamika McIntosh of Brampton, Ont., with her late grandfather, Melsome Lee, left, and uncle, Andrew Lee, right, in 2017. Melsome Lee died earlier this year, but McIntosh, who chose to not getting vaccinated, cannot fly to Jamaica to visit his grave until Canada lifts its vaccination mandate. (Submitted by Tamika McIntosh)

Provinces drop most vaccination mandates

Over 85% of Canadians aged five and over are now fully vaccinated

Meanwhile, following a drop in COVID-19 cases after the Omicron wave, Canadian provinces are dropping most or all of their vaccination mandates. This means that unvaccinated people can return to places such as restaurants, gyms and hockey games.

They are also welcome in many countries such as England, Ireland, Iceland and Norway, who have dropped all their travel restrictions related to COVID-19. Other countries, such as Greece and Jamaica allow unvaccinated travelers to enter with a negative COVID-19 test.

The Canadian government doesn’t “pay attention to what’s happening in other countries,” said Kathy Neudorf of Langley, B.C., who is also unvaccinated and eager to travel.

“I don’t have the freedom to come and go as I please…I can’t even cross Quebec or anything like that, because I can’t fly.”

Kathy Neudorf of Langley, British Columbia, and her American husband, David Johnson, are unvaccinated. (Submitted by Kathy Neudorf)

The global resurgence of COVID-19 could delay the plan

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Teresa Tam, said Ottawa is reviewing its vaccination mandates for travelers and federal workers, with the goal of dropping them. But she suggested the current resurgence of COVID-19 cases around the world could delay this plan.

“The potential for resurgence of Omicron, especially the BA.2 subtype, may still occur. So I think that’s waiting to see what happens with that situation,” she said during a meeting of the House of Commons health committee on Monday.

At the same meeting, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos offered no timetable for ending federal vaccination mandates, but said the decision would be based on a number of factors, including the number COVID-19 cases, declining immunity and vaccination rates.

Although the vaccination rate in Canada is high, Duclos noted that less than 60% of Canadian adults have received their booster.

“We need more than that to protect against Omicron and its future variants,” he said.

Currently, Canadians do not need a booster shot to be fully immunized.

Many who are vaccinated are still getting COVID-19, expert notes

Some health professionals say it’s time for Canada to rethink its travel vaccine mandate.

Infectious disease physician Dr Zain Chagla points out that many vaccinated people have also contracted COVID-19.

“Knowing that two doses of vaccines probably won’t prevent a lot of transmission, it’s really starting to put holes in the fact that this mandate is for [prevent] transmission,” said Chagla, a physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

He encourages people to get vaccinated because data shows vaccines can help prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19.

Watch: Canada ends pre-arrival testing for vaccinated travellers:

Canada to end pre-arrival COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated travelers

Fully vaccinated travelers will no longer be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in Canada by air or car starting April 1. It is feared that it is too early for Ottawa to drop the rule, given the increase in the number of cases in Europe and Asia. 1:43

But Chagla said now that the provinces have dropped their vaccination mandates, it would make sense for the federal government to follow suit.

“Leaving on a domestic flight and sitting at the … Scotiabank Center for a Raptors game – the risks aren’t that far off,” he said. “But one of those events requires proof of the vaccine mandate.”

Unvaccinated are at greater risk of infecting others: epidemiologist

Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine takes a different position. He argues that the vaccination mandate for travelers should remain until the majority of the world’s population is fully vaccinated.

He said that while vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, unvaccinated people are at greater risk of infecting others because they can carry the virus for longer.

“They will shed the virus, more for longer, which actually means they will be more efficient transmitters of the virus to others,” said Muhajarine, professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, and a member of the Federal Government’s Coronavirus Variant Rapid Response Network.

Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine says Canada should not drop its vaccination mandate for travelers until the majority of the world’s population is fully vaccinated. (The University of Saskatchewan)

Nazeem also said it could be problematic if Canada drops the vaccination mandate, then reinstates it at another time, if the pandemic worsens.

“Trying to reintroduce it is clumsy and never good policy,” he said. “People are confused.”