Vaccination status cards may be the ticket to reopening the Canada-U.S. border

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Ryan Remiorz

A vehicle approaches the only open lane at the United States border crossing in Lacolle, Quebec, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The Canada-U.S. border will be closed to non-essential traffic in both directions "by mutual consent," President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday, as efforts across the continent to contain the widening COVID-19 pandemic continued to upend daily life in North America. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

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EDMONTON, Alberta (CTV Network) — As pressure mounts on the Canadian government to reopen the land border with the U.S., experts say incentivizing Canadians to become fully vaccinated by providing greater freedoms and less restrictions to those who are is a good place to start.

“We know from evidence and experience the world round that two weeks beyond a full vaccination status, the risk of transmitting this virus is next to zero,” Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, infectious disease expert, told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday.

“So, we’ve got to create an opportunity that not only incentivizes becoming fully vaccinated, but then allows different forms of commerce, recreation, and doing things like visiting with family.

Sharkawy pointed to Manitoba’s strategy of issuing an immunization card to fully vaccinated residents as an example of what could work across the country.

Announced Tuesday, the immunization card will allow Manitobans to travel within Canada without having to self-isolate for two weeks after they return if they’ve been fully vaccinated, and not have to self-isolate if deemed a close contact of a COVID-19 case.

“Manitoba is doing the right thing right now, in terms of providing greater freedoms and less restrictions for those that are fully vaccinated,” he said.

“That, in combination with looking at case rates and seeing if there are any spikes of transmission within communities, play a role in the border reopening and who can cross that border.”

For fully-vaccinated people, the risk of contracting COVID-19, often referred to as “breakthrough infections,” remains extremely low, although cases have been reported in the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, it’s not yet clear how much vaccines reduce transmission of the virus from a vaccinated person to others.

Sharkawy notes that it takes two weeks to gain full immunity from a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and those who have received their second dose should still ​continue to practice good public health measures. ​

The current non-essential travel restrictions with the U.S. have been in place since March, 2020 and are set to expire on June 21. The provision exempts the flow of trade and commerce, but American politicians are calling for the border to fully reopen by July 4.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said anyone coming to Canada would need to be fully vaccinated before arriving to prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19, adding that the government is looking at ways to start welcoming back visitors from the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Trudeau said during a virtual appearance at an event hosted by the St. John’s Board of Trade. “We are looking at how we’re going to start welcoming up tourists in a phased way as the numbers come down in Canada, as the numbers start to come down in the United States and elsewhere around the world.”

On Wednesday, CTV News confirmed that Canadians who fly into the country and have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer be forced to stay in quarantine hotels. The federal government will officially announce this change to its pandemic border measures later Wednesday, sources say.

Asked whether the projection of a summer border reopening is too soon, Sharkawy said, “I don’t think so,” noting that Canada’s vaccination rate continues to rise.

“We’re getting very close to a situation where enough people are becoming fully vaccinated and outdoor activities will reduce the amount of spread,” he said. “I think this is certainly an opportunity to at least phase in the opening of the U.S.-Canadian border.”​