Guidance for what Canadians can, and can't do after vaccines coming 'shortly': Hajdu

Canadians will “shortly” receive federal guidance around what they can, and can’t do safely after their first and second COVID-19 shots, according to Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

Facing questions about why Canada has yet to offer any formal guidance to people who have been vaccinated about what degree of risk they have in certain circumstances in the way the United States has, Hajdu said it’s in the works.

“We are working with provinces and territories to understand their own epidemiology… It’s the percentage of Canadians that are vaccinated, and it's the extent of disease that's being transmitted in communities. We will have guidance out for Canadians very shortly about what they can do with one dose or two doses of the vaccine,” said Hajdu in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Question Period.

In early April, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued interim public health recommendations for Americans who are fully vaccinated, outlining what health measures they should still take while offering new freedoms.

For example, fully vaccinated Americans have been told they can resume domestic travel without taking COVID-19 tests, no longer need to self-isolate after arriving back from an international destination, and can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing.

On Tuesday, the CDC took their guidance a step further, stating that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks outdoors unless in a large crowd of people.

Earlier this week in response to questions from CTVNews.ca about why the Public Health Agency of Canada has yet to follow suit, spokesperson Anna Maddison said that for now all people “must stay the course,” and keep following the complete suite of suggested public health measures.

Questions around whether Canada has metrics or goalposts on which it will base any decisions around easing public health measures have been asked by MPs for months, with little clarity in the responses from federal officials.

Hajdu said that because fully vaccinated people can still become sick with COVID-19 if there's a high degree of spread in their community, the federal health agency is needing to be cautious about what recommendations they issue.

While first doses of the three two-shot COVID-19 vaccines in use in Canada offer some degree of efficacy after one dose, it isn’t enough that Canadians should be letting their guards down while they wait to receive their second doses.

“Canada's approach is much aligned with the U.K. approach which is really to make sure that we vaccinate as many people as possible but that first dose,” Hajdu said, referencing the widely adopted strategy of prolonging the time between the first and second doses of two-shot COVID-19 vaccines to up to four months. The United Kingdom is offering its citizens shots three months apart.

“We will have guidance out shortly for Canadians. And it's very important that we all continue to follow those public health measures until we are certain that our communities are safe,” Hajdu said.

In a small step towards providing a target rate of vaccination for when public health measures may begin to be lifted, as part of April 23 modelling Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam projected that should 75 per cent of adults have their first dose, and 20 per cent have their second, restrictions could be lifted without maxing out hospital capacity.

NO DOMESTIC VACCINE PASSPORTS

Hajdu also said that while work continues to establish what the international standard will be when it comes to vaccine passports to travel, domestic vaccine passports aren’t going to be something the federal government pursues.

That said, Hajdu noted that there could still be circumstances where proof of vaccination will be required.

“There's no intention to impose a domestic vaccination passport at the federal level, but I will remind people that certain settings will require vaccination as they always do. So, for example schools require certain childhood immunizations. Some universities and colleges may require vaccination. There might be requirements for certain workplaces, and those are all, as you know determined that local and provincial levels,” Hajdu said.

One of the key outstanding aspects of issuing vaccine certification may be the patchwork in ways people across Canada are receiving their COVID-19 vaccines and whether at some point down the line a more uniform vaccine card could be issued.

Hajdu said during a G7 health ministers meeting this week about international vaccine passports that the consensus was that there should be “some sort of common way to be able to quickly credential people’s certification of vaccination.”

“We know there are a lot of different kinds of vaccines around the world, and we want obviously Canadians to be able to participate in international travel, so I can reassure Canadians that no matter what those requirements will be we'll have Canadians ready when the time is right to travel.”