A cross-border vaccine clinic hosted by the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana that has allowed Albertans to get COVID-19 vaccines is set to resume after public outcry about the clinic’s cancellation earlier this week, when the Canadian and United States governments deemed vaccine travel non-essential under the current restrictions.
The Blackfoot Confederacy, which includes three First Nations in Alberta and Montana’s Blackfeet Tribe, said on its website that the “Medicine Line Vaccine Clinic” will be offering vaccines at the border crossing at Carway, Alta., on June 8 and 9. The notice said they would provide a letter to waive the mandatory 14-day quarantine for international travel.
Neither the Blackfoot Confederacy nor the Blackfeet Tribe responded to a request for comment.
In the past two months, the Blackfeet vaccine clinic drew lines of vehicles sometimes nearly two kilometres long to the Carway border crossing. The clinic administered an estimated 1,350 doses to Canadians.
The clinic does not permit Canadians to pass the border services building to enter the United States. Instead, it allows them to get their vaccine in a drive-thru format, leading back to the Canadian side of the border.
The Blackfeet Nation announced the clinic’s cancellation after the Canadian and U.S. government determined that exemptions to border restrictions that allowed people to cross for medical reasons do not apply to vaccine appointments. The notice from the Blackfoot Confederacy did not explain what had changed to allow the vaccine clinic to resume.
The Alberta government had expressed frustration that issues at the border had scuttled the Blackfeet vaccine clinic, which the provincial government blamed on Ottawa.
Across the country, provinces have worked to expand vaccine capacity by securing access to shots in the United States. Manitoba and Alberta, for example, signed deals with neighbouring states to vaccinate truckers who travel into the U.S. for work.
In Alaska, Governor Mike Dunleavy has offered COVID-19 vaccines to residents of Stewart, B.C., with hopes it could lead the Canadian government to ease restrictions between that town and the Alaska border community of Hyder, located just over the border.
The mayor of Windsor, Ont., has been pressing the federal government for help getting people from his community across the border into Detroit to get vaccinated.
The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel for more than a year and Ottawa imposed a 14-day quarantine requirement around the same time. People coming into Canada are also required to produce a negative COVID-19 test.
The Canadian restrictions include exemptions for quarantine and COVID-19 testing for travellers returning to Canada if their purpose for leaving the country was essential medical services.
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau said this medical exemption was introduced for Canadians seeking “life-saving medical treatment outside of Canada on a regular basis,” not for Canadians seeking COVID-19 vaccinations in foreign countries. The US Customs and Border Protection Agency also said crossing the border for COVID-19 vaccinations is not permitted under current travel restrictions.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said he isn’t pleased with the vaccine rollout in Canada, specifically the low percentage of people here who have received two doses. Provincial governments decided to wait up to four months to administer second doses for most people in favour of giving at least one shot to as many people as possible first.
Mr. Dilkens said he wants more people fully vaccinated to ensure the border is reopened as soon as possible and get Canadians “back to living their lives.”
An average of 1,200 people cross the Canada-U.S. border in Windsor daily for work – a fraction of the number prepandemic – many of whom have jobs in health care. Mr. Dilkens said these folks report a surplus of vaccines to him daily, raising concerns these vaccines will be discarded due to a lack of demand south of the border.
“I’m not trying to take anyone’s supply that is going to disadvantage anyone. I’m trying to take the surplus that they’re about to throw away,” he said.
Canadians living near the Windsor-Detroit border began travelling to the United States to snatch these unused doses, skipping the mandatory 14-day quarantine by providing border agents with the necessary documents. When the federal government made it clear that vaccines were not considered an essential reason for medical travel, Mr. Dilkens said at least nine Canadians were refused entry into the United States, sent back to Canada and instructed to quarantine for 14-days.
He’s calling on the Canadian government to reverse their decision to deem vaccine travel non-essential and said he wants them to work with border communities to help facilitate the administration of doses being made available “just across the river” to residents in Canada. The city has set up a wait list in the event that cross-border vaccine travel is permitted.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
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