Travellers arriving in Barbados with two different COVID-19 vaccine shots will now be considered fully vaccinated under the country’s travel protocols, as a global debate rages about the safety of ‘vaccine mixing’.
However, Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George and President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) Dr Lynda Williams, have both acknowledged that the policy change is not entirely based on conclusive scientific research.
On Thursday evening, following concerns raised in the international press, the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
(BTMI) updated the protocol to reflect the position that persons with mixed vaccines would be categorised as fully vaccinated.
“Travellers who have mixed vaccine regimens of Ministry of Health and Wellness-approved vaccines will be considered fully vaccinated, for example, first dose of one brand followed by second dose of another which is not a one-dose regimen,” the BTMI statement declared.
Fully-vaccinated travellers who arrive with a negative PCR COVID-19 test are allowed to fully explore the island after testing negative on arrival, giving them a significant edge over their unvaccinated counterparts who are required to undergo at least five days in quarantine.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George admitted there was still some uncertainty about the scientific basis for the decision.
“That is the challenge, that the scientific community is not 100 per cent sure as to the mixing of vaccines,” Dr George told Barbados TODAY. There have been a few small studies that show that they are indeed efficacious, and it takes a while to look at the evidence and make a pronouncement on a change. So that is where we are at the moment, but we are looking at it favourably,” the CMO added.
The basis for the policy change is therefore still unclear.
The BAMP president noted that the only conclusive evidence on vaccine mixing was the AstraZeneca followed by the Pfizer vaccine, and all others are still under review, but that within a week, the research should be more credible.
“I have seen that the studies are being conducted, but I don’t think that there is any country that can come out and say ‘this is the efficacy’,” Dr Williams, an epidemiologist, told Barbados TODAY.
“The countries that have taken these policy decisions may be using evidence that we don’t know. All I can say is that right now, the only thing that we have evidence that we can review is AstraZeneca, followed by Pfizer, but there are people doing all kinds of combinations out there, so it’s kind of hard to speak to every possible combination that could exist.
“And the thing is that we are being hammered on it because the sort of idea is that it is being done in this place or that place and therefore Barbados has no right to have its own opinion, and I have a problem with that,” she added.
The challenges were particularly evident among prospective visitors from Canada, where vaccine mixing appears to have been quite common. Some potential visitors have had to re-think their planned trips to Barbados.
Among them was Ontario-based Barbadian prosthodontist Dr Christ Storey, who wrote to Prime Minister Mia Mottley about the matter when his seven-day trip planned for July and August to visit relatives was suddenly placed in jeopardy.
Dr Storey told Barbados TODAY that he took the first dose of Pfizer and the second Moderna as those were available when he turned up for vaccination. He, however, complained that the country’s previous policy on vaccine mixing had not been properly communicated and was nowhere on the highly-touted Bimshare app.
“Nowhere on that site is there any mention of this five-day quarantine or the problem with being vaccinated with two different types of material. I’m sure that some people have not been aware of this, have gone down there, and all of a sudden, they get put in quarantine for five days,”Storey complained.
“A lot of people around here, where I live in London, Ontario, have had two different vaccines because when they didn’t have Pfizer they gave you the Moderna. If I hadn’t called the consulate in Toronto, I would not have been aware of any of this. They need to put that information out there and make it well known, because like I say, a lot of people around here have had the two vaccines,” he appealed.