Trinidad and Tobago nationals who returned to this country from Canada are calling on the Ministry of Health to clarify its policy on the mixing of Covid-19 vaccines.
This after they were made to pay fees ranging from $13,500 to $17,000 to quarantine at a State-approved facility.
One national, a 27-year-old man, told the Express he arrived in Trinidad on June 19, believing he was fully vaccinated.
The man, who asked that his name be withheld, said he received a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and, due to a shortage of that vaccine in Canada, he received a dose of the Moderna vaccine as his second shot.
The combination, he said, was approved in Canada, and many people have received that mix under the assurance it was “100 per cent effective” and they would be considered fully vaccinated.
However, he said the online form to apply for the TT Travel Pass did not have an option to record a mix of vaccines, and the only way to book a flight was to register as an unvaccinated person.
As such, he could only enter T&T after making arrangements to quarantine at a State-approved facility at his own expense.
He said the two-week quarantine at a hotel comes with a bill of $13,500 that he is struggling to pay. He said it was unreasonable that being vaccinated, he is being treated as a completely unvaccinated person and quarantining at a facility with others who have not been vaccinated at all.
He called on the ministry to address the issue.
“It is quite costly, it is a very big expense,” he said, adding if he had known the mixture of vaccines would not be approved in Trinidad and Tobago, he would have been guided accordingly.
The man, who had been stuck in Canada since the beginning of the pandemic, said he thought he did the right thing by waiting patiently for the borders to be reopened and getting vaccinated with the vaccines that were available.
“We were forced to get the Moderna vaccine because of a shortage of the Pfizer. So, most Canadians have a Pfizer/Moderna mix,” he said.
“So a lot of Canadians and Trinidad nationals coming back will be put in this situation. It is frustrating because I made sure everything was in order for me to be able to travel and this is the situation I am faced with now.
“It is extremely frustrating. I feel as though I am being punished for going through the correct avenues. The Government does not care about rectifying these situations and they are quite vague about the requirements. I am hoping they make some amendments or at least revise this in some way,” he said.
Cancer and three strokes
Another traveller who came in from Canada told the Express he returned with his elderly father who has dual T&T and Canadian citizenship.
He also asked for his name to be withheld.
The man said his father is a cancer patient and recently suffered three strokes. He wanted to return to his homeland to “live out the rest of his days”, he said.
In preparation for travel, his father received a Pfizer/Moderna combination of vaccines before attempting to return to T&T.
However, he faced the same issue when applying for the TT Travel Pass.
There was no option to record a mix of vaccines, so he selected the Pfizer vaccine.
He added that he did his research before travelling to familiarise himself with the requirements.
“And there is nothing on the Ministry of Health’s website that addresses mixing of vaccines,” he noted.
The man said he was under the belief that any combination of approved vaccines would be accepted, especially as they were given the assurance that the mix was effective by Canadian health authorities.
However, upon arrival, he was told the mixture of vaccines is not recognised in T&T and he would be treated as an unvaccinated person and be required to quarantine at a State-approved facility at his own expense. The quarantine is costing $17,000 for two weeks, he said.
“We got told, pretty much at the last minute, that we would have to go into quarantine,” he said. But because his father is critically ill and requires specific care, he said the hotel where they are quarantining is not an ideal environment.
“He is a stage four cancer patient. There are people here who are not vaccinated and, in my mind, my dad is fully vaccinated. So he has some protection, but I don’t like the idea of exposing him to people who are not vaccinated,” he said.
He added that he had leased an apartment for his father and he could have at least been allowed to quarantine there as it was more suited for his medical needs.
He said the Ministry of Health should have clearer guidelines on its website addressing fully which, if any, mixture of vaccines is acceptable.
He added there are several other people quarantining at the same facility who also experienced the same issue. Some, he said, were told by airline staff that they could have any combination of vaccines, only to arrive in T&T and be told otherwise.
The ministry’s guidelines separate travellers into four categories—unvaccinated passengers, returning passengers requiring medical attention, fully vaccinated passengers and children under the age of 18.
The guidelines say that fully vaccinated passengers must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than three days before arrival and they must show proof of vaccination with a vaccine approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Such people would not be required to go into quarantine, it says.
The ministry also lists the vaccines that have been WHO-approved that would be accepted in T&T—Pfizer, AstraZeneca (Covishield/SK Bioscience, AZD 1222-Vaxzevria), Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac.
The guidelines however do not mention mixing of vaccines. The Express attempted to contact Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young for clarification on the matter yesterday, but calls went unanswered.
Last month, during a Ministry of Health virtual conference, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram noted some countries were mixing vaccines, but he said T&T would not be doing so.
“What has been happening in certain territories around the world is possibly because of shortage and, of course, because of research, they have been using a first dose of one type and a second dose of another type.
“In terms of early research, it is suggesting that there may be some improvement in the overall efficacy, but it’s early days yet, so the national policy of Trinidad and Tobago as of this time, once you have one vaccine, you have a first dose and a second dose from the same vaccine,” Parasram said.
What WHO says about
The World Health Organisation says there is limited data on the effectiveness of mixing Covid-19 vaccines from different manufacturers.
WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said earlier this month that such decisions should be left to public health authorities.
“Individuals should not decide for themselves, public health agencies can, based on available data,” she said.
“Data from mix-and-match studies of different vaccines are awaited—immunogenicity and safety both need to be evaluated.”
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on vaccines said in June the Pfizer vaccine could be used as a second dose after an initial dose of AstraZeneca, if the latter is not available.
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunisation (NACI) said, ideally, the same vaccine should be taken for both first and second shots. But it said if this option is unavailable, a second shot of either Pfizer or Moderna is acceptable.
Several Canadian states are now rallying the government to work with WHO to update its guidance to international partners that mixing vaccines should be internationally accepted as a complete vaccine regimen.