Mixed dose woes: Some Canadians lost out on jobs abroad due to their mixed vaccines

Having a mixed COVID-19 vaccine — two shots but with different vaccines — may do more than impede your travel plans. It could hurt your chances of working abroad. 

Several countries don’t recognize people with mixed doses as being fully vaccinated.

That’s the general position in the United States where the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently doesn’t condone mixing COVID-19 vaccines. 

Canadians can fly to the U.S. without showing proof of vaccination. However, many cruise lines departing the country have vaccination requirements — which are based on CDC guidelines. 

As a result, some Canadian cruise ship workers say they lost out on jobs because they weren’t considered fully vaccinated due to their mixed vaccines. 

“It was really heartbreaking,” said dancer Rosie Harbans of Toronto who performs in cruise ship shows. “This is how I make my money. This is how I live my life. This is my livelihood.”

Last year, Harbans’ cruise ship contract was cut short after the pandemic forced the cruise industry to shut down in March 2020. 

So she was thrilled to land a job starting next month with a cruise line. But she said her joy — and her job offer — disappeared after the cruise company learned she had mixed COVID-19 doses: one Pfizer and one Moderna.

“I was very, very upset, because I thought that getting a mixed vaccine was the right thing to do,” said Harbans. 

Cruise ship dancer, Rosie Harbans of Toronto said she was heartbroken to discover she couldn’t accept a job on a cruise ship because she has a mixed COVID-19 vaccine. (Yasmin Parodi)

To protect their future employment, CBC News has agreed to not name the cruise line involved in Harbans’ case or in the case of a second cruise ship entertainer interviewed for this story. 

Both said they don’t blame the cruise lines, and that they are speaking out to encourage the Canadian government to push for the acceptance of mixed vaccines internationally. 

“Find a solution,” said Harbans. “Try and do it as quickly as possible for all of the people that took [the government’s] advice in getting a mixed vaccine.”

Since mid-July, the federal government has repeatedly said it’s working with other countries to resolve their differing vaccine policies. But Ottawa has yet to announce any progress on that front. 

No international consensus on mixed vaccines

Millions of Canadians have received mixed COVID-19 vaccines. That’s because in June, Canada updated its guidelines to recommend mixing COVID-19 vaccine doses based on emerging research that found it was both safe and effective.

But there’s currently no international consensus on mixing COVID-19 vaccines. 

For example, according to their government websites, both Ireland and the United Kingdom don’t recognize any combination of mixed COVID-19 vaccines. 

Germany and Trinidad and Tobago only recognize a mix of AstraZeneca and Pfizer or Moderna. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes the same position — with a cautionary note.

“There is currently limited data on the immunogenicity or efficacy of a ‘mix and match’ [COVID-19 vaccine] regimen,” the WHO said in a statement

Watch: Canada recommends mixing COVID-19 vaccines:

Canada OKs mixing COVID-19 vaccines

3 months ago

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization says AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccines can be swapped for Pfizer or Moderna for the second dose. Limited evidence suggests the immunity from mixing doses is just as good, and may be better than two of the same. 2:00

The U.S. CDC takes the position that COVID-19 vaccines “are not interchangeable.” However, there are exceptions to the rule. The CDC says mixed doses of the two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are acceptable in “exceptional situations,” such as when the vaccine used for the first dose was no longer available.

As a result, some cruise lines such as Celebrity, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, don’t recognize people with any type of mixed vaccine as being fully vaccinated. Other cruise companies, such as Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Carnival, don’t recognize a mix of AstraZeneca and an mRNA vaccine. 

Several cruise lines told CBC News they’re simply following CDC protocol. “We are under the jurisdiction of CDC when operating in U.S. waters and follow its guidance as to approved vaccines and procedures,” said Holland America Line in an email.

‘Shot ourselves in the foot’

Cruise ship entertainer, Michael Harrison of Windsor, N.S., says having a mixed vaccine is hurting his livelihood. 

“It’s pretty important that this gets sorted,” said Harrison who has spent 25 years performing as a comedy ventriloquist on cruise ships.

“It’s [my] employment. It’s a career that I had for my whole life.”

Ventriloquist Michael Harrison says he has yet to return to full-time cruise ship work due to having two doses of different COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. doesn’t recognize people with mixed vaccines as being fully vaccinated. (Michael Harrison/funnyguy.ca)

Both Harrison and his fiancée, who works as his assistant, each got a mix of AstraZeneca and Moderna.

Harrison said that over the past two months, the duo was offered jobs with two different cruise lines — with the first gig starting this month. But Harrison said when he learned that the cruise companies don’t recognize people with a mix of AstraZeneca and Moderna as being fully vaccinated, the couple had to reluctantly decline the job offers. 

“We had no clue that it wouldn’t be recognized,” said Harrison’s fiancée, Jennifer Giesbrecht. “Here we think we’re doing a good thing and we just shot ourselves in the foot.”

Some cruise workers consider getting third dose

Last week, the federal government announced it plans to create a standardized proof-of-vaccination passport for international travel by early fall.

The announcement included no resolution on the mixed vaccine issue, which Ottawa said is still a work in progress. 

“The Government of Canada continues to work with the World Health Organization and its international partners to share data proving the efficacy of a mixed vaccine schedule,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in a statement.

Worried they’re running out of time, Harrison and Giesbrecht are investigating getting a third vaccine dose, so they have two doses of the same vaccine. 

However, in Canada, only Quebec and Saskatchewan have announced they’re offering third doses to people travelling abroad. Quebec and Saskatchewan each told CBC News that, at this time, only people living in the province can apply. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. announced it plans to start offering COVID-19 booster shots to all adult Americans next month as an added layer of protection. Although Canada is exploring the efficacy of third doses, it’s not recommending them at this time.

“We don’t really know the exact impacts of adding another dose to the existing schedule,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam at a news conference earlier this month. 

She also suggested it could be some time before the mixed vaccine problem gets resolved.

“It is going to be a bit confusing and complicated in the next months ahead.”

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