Travellers returning to B.C. struggle to register out-of-province COVID-19 vaccinations

Last month, Herb Silber took a flight to New York for family reasons. The 75-year-old Vancouver resident got his first COVID-19 vaccination in March. While in New York, he received his second dose.

Upon return to B.C., Silber tried letting the Ministry of Health know he is now fully vaccinated.

“To have a record of it, and secondly, because we may need that information for international travel, or events and things of that sort,” Silber said.

According to the provincial government’s COVID-19 vaccination webpage, anyone who received their first dose outside of B.C. should call the COVID-19 hotline to update their immunization record.

Silber called the hotline on May 31 and was told his immunization record could not be updated. Instead, Silber says, the operator directed him to the government’s Health Gateway website or to his family doctor to make the update. Neither of those options worked.

Silber later realized his record wasn’t updated because his second dose was from outside of B.C., not his first.

“If you had your first vaccine outside of the province and your second dose in the province, they will register the first dose,” Silber said. “I’m at a loss to understand, if they have the facility to do that, why they can’t register extra-provincial doses regardless of what sequence you’ve had them in.”

Silber is not alone, according to Dr. Valorie Crooks, an SFU professor and Canada research chair in health service geographies.

“This is what many people are feeling when they have a non-linear vaccination experience,” Crooks said.

On top of thousands of snowbirds returning to Canada from the United States and Mexico, Crooks says there are plenty of international students and businesspeople also making their way back, and it’s imperative their COVID-19 vaccination records are properly documented.

“The challenge would be the critical timing for anyone who received a first dose abroad and needs access to a second dose, and making sure that information can be entered so they can be deemed eligible to receive their second dose,” said Crooks.

She believes the current system of travellers calling in to update their immunization history is problematic. In Crooks’ opinion, a foolproof way of making sure every out-of-province vaccination is accounted for is to ask travellers about it at the border.

“The best point of transfer of any information for travellers is when they are actually at the border point,” she said. “That’s where we can capture them and give them tailored information about what they need to do and where they need to do it.”

Silber agrees.

“I don’t think people coming back should be scrambling to figure out how to register their second dose,” he said. “That shouldn’t be our job. The government should be facilitating that.”