Nova Scotians vaccinated outside province say they can’t get health records updated

Some Nova Scotians who received a COVID-19 vaccine outside the province say they’re having trouble getting their health record updated to reflect their true vaccination status.

They’re also worried that this means the province’s official vaccination tallies aren’t accurate, something officials from the Health Department say is unlikely.

Scott McKellar, who lives in Dartmouth, said he received his first vaccine dose in early June when he was passing through Florida on his way back from the Bahamas, where he spent the winter. About a month later, he got his second shot in Nova Scotia.

“When we got our second jab, we were informed that we would not officially be recognized as being fully vaccinated.”

McKellar said he has a card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that he received a vaccine there, but he’s been told his personal health record will not be updated. However, a note on his file will prevent him from getting another COVID-19 vaccine in Nova Scotia.

No records for out-of-province vaccinations

Kristen Lipscombe, a spokesperson for the provincial Health Department, said COVID-19 immunization records can only be issued to Nova Scotians who received their doses in the province, but the department is exploring ways to produce records for those who got vaccinated elsewhere.

McKellar said he’s concerned that his documentation could impede his freedom to travel or access other services if a vaccine passport doesn’t show him as being fully vaccinated.

“If I was boarding a plane from Halifax to Tampa, for example. I don’t have the same record as everybody else in Nova Scotia. … Inevitably, somebody is going to show up [and say] … ‘We don’t know if we can let you on the plane because your record is different than everybody else’s record.’ You know, I mean, that type of snafu is just waiting to occur.”

A spokesperson for Health Canada did not respond to a question about how international vaccinations could affect a Canadian’s ability to obtain a vaccine passport. 

The spokesperson said vaccinations received by Canadians in another country are only captured by provincial or territorial registries if people voluntarily submit their proof of vaccination.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s immunization data is obtained from those registries, and the agency itself does not track vaccinations obtained by Canadians elsewhere.

The province’s official vaccination rates likely do not include some people who were vaccinated outside the province, as the Health Department says it does not actively track the number of Nova Scotians who got shots elsewhere. (Robert Short/CBC)

Concerns about reopening plan

McKellar said there could be hundreds or even thousands of other Nova Scotians who have been vaccinated outside the province. If they’re not included in the official vaccination rates, he worries it could be preventing the province from moving ahead with its reopening plan.

Nova Scotia is currently in Phase 4 of its five-phase reopening plan. Premier-designate Tim Houston announced Monday the province is targeting Sept. 15 as the date to move to Phase 5, which would see most public health restrictions lifted.

Moving to Phase 5 is contingent upon 75 per cent of Nova Scotians being fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday, 69.9 per cent of Nova Scotians have received two doses. 

Lipscombe said if Nova Scotians who were vaccinated elsewhere contact their local Public Health office to provide their proof of immunization, it would count toward the province’s overall vaccination numbers.

But she said it takes 10,000 people to increase the proportion of fully vaccinated Nova Scotians by one percentage point.

Although the province does not actively track the number of Nova Scotians who receive international vaccinations — even if they report it to Public Health — she says it expects that number would be “very low.”

People wait in line at the Halifax Convention Centre’s walk-in clinic. Residents who were vaccinated outside Nova Scotia must contact Public Health in order to have their immunization status reflected in the province’s statistics. (Robert Short/CBC)

Rotational workers affected

Darcy Hoover, a rotational worker who works in the travel industry, received his first shot in Nova Scotia in May and his second shot in Nunavut in June, but he’s still getting emails telling him to re-book his second shot, which is scheduled for early September.

He said he’s tried contacting Public Health multiple times to update his record but has had a hard time getting through over the phone.

“It’s impossible. There’s no easy way to say, ‘Hey, I got vaccinated somewhere else,’ ” said Hoover, who lives in Fall River, about 23 kilometres north of Halifax. 

Hoover said there are tens of thousands of rotational workers in Nova Scotia, and many of them may have received a vaccine dose in another province. 

Hoover said he eventually got an email back from Public Health saying they would update his record “at some point.”

Nova Scotia’s overall vaccination rate also does not include the 8,000 or so members of the Canadian Armed Forces stationed in Nova Scotia, Lipscombe said.

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