Latest update: October 21, 2021

Canada is using proof of COVID-19 vaccination, also known as COVID-19 vaccine passports, to facilitate international travel. Proof of vaccination will play a crucial role in Canada’s border re-opening strategy in the weeks and months to come.

Since September 7, 2021, fully vaccinated travellers from all countries have been eligible to enter Canada, but Canada has been treating vaccinated travellers differently from unvaccinated/partially vaccinated travellers for several months now. Since July 5, Canada has allowed fully vaccinated travellers to skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine, and since August 9, Canada opened its borders to fully vaccinated non-essential travellers from the United States.

Fully vaccinated foreign nationals travelling to Canada can upload their vaccine certification within the ArriveCAN app, an application which has been used throughout the pandemic by travellers entering Canada to submit their data in advance of arrival. Travellers must upload a photo or PDF showing details of their first and second dose (unless they received the single-dose Johnson&Johnson vaccine). Receipts, cards, and confirmations are accepted as proof of vaccination. If your proof of vaccination is in a language other than English or French, you must obtain a certified translation into English or French and upload this certified translation in place of the original document.

The Canadian government will also soon be introducing an international travel COVID-19 vaccine passport be used by Canadian citizens and residents to facilitate international travel abroad. This will allow all provinces and territories to use the same proof of vaccination at an internationally-acceptable standard. The federal proof of vaccination will be digital, but will also be accessible in other formats for those who prefer non-digital proof.

Under current definitions (and these could change in the future), in order to be considered a fully vaccinated traveller, you must have received the full series of a Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccine or a combination of accepted vaccines. You must have received your last dose at least 14 days prior to travelling. Canada currently accepts four vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, Johnson & Johnson. If you have been vaccinated using a different vaccine, Canada does not consider you fully vaccinated at this time.

Around the world COVID-19 vaccine passports are already a reality, with countries like Israel requiring proof of vaccination to access certain aspects of daily life, and the European Union paving the way to allow vaccinated Americans to enter.

This is your regularly updated guide to the latest details on COVID-19 vaccine passports and travel to Canada. In this guide, we’re focused on the use of vaccine passports only in the context of international travel to and from Canada. We will not be discussing the use of vaccine passports to access other aspects of daily life (gyms, concerts, restaurants, etc.). Be sure to check back often for the latest updates.

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Can a person with a COVID-19 vaccine travel to Canada right now?

Fully vaccinated non-essential travellers from all countries have been able to enter Canada since September 7, 2021.

While the ethics of vaccine passports are hotly debated — and we’ll dive into this later — it’s useful to remember that throughout the pandemic, travel to Canada has been so severely restricted that vaccine passports will not cause any additional restrictions in terms of who can enter the country, at least in the short term. During the pandemic, we often discuss borders in binary terms: open or closed, but in practice, borders function more like a water faucet — the tap can be turned to increase or decrease the flow of water. Throughout the first 18 months of the pandemic, Canada’s faucet had been closed most of the way, but a few drops of water were still able to pass through — those who were exempt from the travel restrictions. Allowing international travellers to use proof of vaccination has enabled Canada to open the faucet a little bit more.

Requiring proof of vaccination to enter the country is allowing Canada to admit more travellers in the short-term, but the border is still further restricted than it was before the pandemic. If the Canadian government wants to advocate for equitable access to travel, the goal would have to be to employ vaccine passports as a temporary measure — a stopgap — to increase access to travel until it is safe to return to pre-pandemic measures, or introduce new measures to allow entry by unvaccinated travellers, too.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and you can expect many questions to be debated in the weeks and months to come: Does the Canadian government want to commit to a return to pre-pandemic border measures, or should we expect heightened travel restrictions longer term? How long would Canada keep a vaccine passport requirement in place? Would there be exemptions for those who can’t access vaccines (children, those from countries with lower vaccine supplies, etc.)? Would people who refuse to receive a vaccine, for whatever reason, be accommodated in any way, such as being able to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test instead?

Are you planning travel to Canada once borders open? Make sure you have proper health insurance coverage for your stay. Explore your health insurance options with our partner, Cigna. Get started today with a free quote!

The arguments for and against COVID-19 vaccine passports for travel to Canada

COVID-19 vaccine passports are a contentious subject. Again, in this article, we’re only focused on the use of COVID-19 vaccine passports in the context of international travel — but additional questions and concerns surround the broader use of vaccine passports to access broader aspects of daily life.

On March 31, 2021, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Expert Panel on COVID-19 published a new report titled Scientific Considerations for Using COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates. The report details the many considerations for and against the use of COVID-19 vaccine passports for international travel.

In arguing for the use of vaccine passports, the report notes that Canada’s strict travel requirements “could be replaced with a vaccination certificate or a combination of test and vaccination certificate” and that this could “increase safety and ease some costs.” Many individuals had been unable to see family members for over a year, and thousands of approved permanent residents had been unable to travel to Canada to activate their status. As detailed in the report, the introduction of vaccine passports for travel “could be a significant benefit for Canadians.”

However, the report also details important ethical concerns about the broad use of vaccine certificates creating a tiered society with a “a ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ dynamic between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.” Especially concerning, is the potential for this tiered system to further exacerbate existing social inequities, particularly among racialized, indigenous and other disadvantaged groups, “These communities may lack trust in established medical institutions and/or their governments due to historical harms, such as experimentation without consent in residential schools and persistent inequitable care experienced in the medical system, leading to comparatively low vaccination intentions.”

Of course, considering that access to travel is restricted at unprecedented levels across Canada, it could be argued that, at least in the context of international travel, vaccine passports could increase access in solving short-term issues of family separation and approved permanent residents stuck outside the country. However, in the long-term conversation about international travel, as well as in conversations about the broader use of vaccine passports in Canada to access other aspects of daily life, the ethical concerns put forward by the report would need to be addressed in order to promote access and equity. 

Continued below…

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Scientific uncertainties about COVID-19 vaccine passports

Another blunt yet important consideration in the use of vaccine passports is, simply, do they work? Will requiring the use of vaccine passports for travel to or from Canada prevent the spread of COVID-19?

The same report by Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Expert Panel on COVID-19 outlines several scientific uncertainties in this area. As COVID-19 is a new virus, and as vaccines have only recently been deployed to the general public, more real-world data needs to be collected to determine the effectiveness of vaccine passports in preventing COVID-19 transmission in the context of international travel. However, the available data suggests that vaccine passports could be at least somewhat effective in making international travel safer in the current stage of the pandemic.

Specifically, the report details three areas of interest where more real-world data is needed to evaluate full effectiveness of vaccine passports:

  1. The ability of vaccines to reduce/eliminate COVID-19 transmission: While all four of Canada’s approved vaccines prevent some degree of symptomatic infection, clinical trials for vaccine approvals were measuring frequency and severity of illness, not impacts on potential transmission by a vaccinated individual. This means, it may be possible for a vaccinated individual to become infected, perhaps asymptomatically, and still transmit the virus to others.
    Early data surrounding the Delta variant suggests that vaccinated individuals who become infected, sometimes called “breakthrough infections,” can still transmit the virus to others.
  2. The duration of immunity: Since COVID-19 vaccines are so new to the market, it is unclear how long immunity lasts once a person is vaccinated. “Given the recent history of COVID-19, duration of immunity following natural infection or vaccination beyond 8 to 10 months is uncertain.” It is possible that immunity could last beyond 10 months, but there is not enough data yet to say for sure. If immunity only lasts say, one year, how would this impact the rollout of a vaccine passport system? That’s another unknown, at least at this time.
  3. Effectiveness against COVID-19 variants: Several COVID-19 variants have been identified in Canada, including B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, and, since the report was published, B.1.617, the Delta variant. The vaccines appear to be highly effective at reducing severe illness and hospitalization caused by these variants. However, if variants may still be transmitted despite vaccination, how would this impact vaccine passports? And, what if other variants emerge, especially those with strong resistance to existing vaccines?

In summary, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Expert Panel acknowledges that the data simply does not exist to determine the comprehensive effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine passports for use in international travel. The report summarizes that, “important scientific information for COVID-19 vaccine certificates, such as durability of immunity and efficacy at reducing infection and virus transmission, will need to be considered separately for each class of vaccines.”

Despite the fact that more information would be beneficial in implementing vaccine passports for international travel, it’s worthwhile to remember that throughout the pandemic policymakers have had to make decisions with limited information. It’s possible that the Canadian government will choose to introduce vaccine passports before they can collect the data needed to address every scientific uncertainty outlined above.

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving health crisis, but you can trust that this page will be updated whenever we have new information about the Canadian government’s decision on using vaccine passports. We’ll also update this page with any significant updates to the scientific data informing the conversation around vaccine passports.

Are you planning travel to Canada once borders open? Make sure you have proper health insurance coverage for your stay. Explore your health insurance options with our partner, Cigna. Get started today with a free quote!

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