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'Not clear' if new border rules apply to Quebecers who have had COVID-19 and one dose

·4 min read

MONTREAL — It's unclear whether Quebecers who have had COVID-19 and one dose of vaccine can benefit when the federal government lifts quarantine rules for fully vaccinated travellers on July 5, Quebec Premier François Legault said Monday.

Quebec considers residents who have recovered from the novel coronavirus and who have received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine to be fully vaccinated. Ottawa, however, defines a fully vaccinated traveller as someone who has received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines.

Canada has authorized the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine but has no supply of it. Last week, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam expressed skepticism that Canada would end up using much of it when deliveries start to arrive.

"It's part of the discussions," Legault told reporters about talks between Quebec and the federal government on the definition of "fully vaccinated."

"But it's not clear at the moment … our specialists say (those travellers) should be considered as completely vaccinated," he said about people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who have had one dose of a two-dose vaccine. Legault acknowledged the discrepancy between definitions could cause issues for travellers.

Earlier on Monday, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said starting at 11:59 p.m. eastern time on July 5, air travellers who have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks won't have to spend any time at a quarantine hotel, and neither air nor land travellers who are fully vaccinated will have to quarantine at home at all — as long as they test negative before and after arrival.

For now, the new rules only recognize the four vaccines Canada has authorized and will not apply to most foreign nationals.

Quebec's Health Department has said a COVID-19 infection triggers an immune system response similar to the response from a first dose of vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), however, has said people with a previous infection "should continue to receive a complete vaccine series at the recommended intervals, regardless of the severity of their previous infection."

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday the question has been put to federal experts, with hopes for a swift response. "We've actually asked the scientists and the scientific community to study this issue and to give us advice as the understanding evolves around the protective nature of vaccination on top of having had COVID and recovered," Hajdu told reporters.

"We know that in Quebec this is considered fully vaccinated and we'll be watching that science carefully."

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at McGill University Health Centre, said the literature on the matter is pretty clear. "If you have previously been infected with COVID and you got one dose, we know that one dose of vaccine acts like a really good boost and should consider you a fully vaccinated person," he said.

Quebec's Health Department said Monday the proof of vaccination it offers doesn't identify someone as having been infected with COVID-19. "The electronic proof of vaccination with QR code indicates the dose(s) that citizens have received, it does not mention the notion of having had the disease or not or the notion of being adequately vaccinated," the department said in an email. "This information will be added over the next few weeks."

Meanwhile, Quebec on Monday reported fewer than 100 daily COVID-19 infections for the first time since August, with just 90 new infections and no deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health authorities said hospitalizations from COVID-19 dipped by two, to 168, with the number of patients in intensive care stable at 39.

Legault received his second dose of COVID-19 vaccine Monday in Montreal, administered at Olympic Stadium by Régine Laurent, a well-known nurse and union leader, and he urged all Quebecers to get a second dose. While just over 80 per cent have received a first dose, only about 19 per cent of Quebecers over 12 are considered fully vaccinated.

The premier said his government is looking to add incentives for people in the 18-to-39 age bracket who are still hesitant to get vaccinated. He said the province could run a lottery or offer rewards.

"It's important for their own protection, it's important for vulnerable friends they may have," Legault said about younger people. "In the future, it will be important if they want to travel abroad because most countries will ask for the two doses, and it's most important, if we want to come back to a normal life, they get those two doses."

Also on Monday, three more regions moved into the least-restrictive, green level of the province's COVID-19 response plan. The regions of Bas-St-Laurent, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec saw an easing of public health measures, including the limit on gatherings in homes. Green zone rules allow indoor public gatherings up to 10 people from three separate households.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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