If the architect couple Marijke and Steven Smit and retired Judy Smith were only a few years younger, their relatively painless return to Australia would almost certainly be a certainty.
Instead, an age limit imposed by Australian authorities on a Chinese vaccine taken by hundreds of millions of people in dozens of countries has effectively shut them out again.
As of Nov. 1, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration will recognize the World Health Organization-approved Sinopharm jab — but only for people ages 18 to 60.
Mrs Smith and Mrs Smith (no relation) are 62, Mr Smith is 63 and all three are fully vaccinated with Sinopharm.
“For two minutes I was excited,” Ms. Smith told 9News.com.au.
“For two minutes I thought, ‘I can go home and see these people and these babies.'”
But then she read the fine print.
The Sinopharm shot is approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization and individually in 68 countries around the world, according to McGill University in Canada’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker.
New Zealand, the US and – starting next week – England all recognize the jab to travel without imposing age limits, as do several European countries, although the European Union itself has not done so.
“It’s incredibly hard to be stuck in a country and actually have to deal with a very illogical argument that you can’t be considered vaccinated because you’re over 60,” Ms Smit told 9news.com.au.
“It’s just completely insane.”
The Department of Health told 9News.com.au it needs more “data from studies and/or real-world evidence showing that vaccines are adequate in age groups under 18 and over 60” to change the restrictions.
“According to ATAGI advice, a person over 60 years of age who has received Sinopharm is not considered to have received a valid first dose,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
“They would therefore not be considered fully vaccinated and should follow the public health regulations of the relevant jurisdiction.”
The problem seems to lie with the Chinese study, which the WHO says was “not designed and conducted to demonstrate efficacy against serious diseases in individuals with comorbidities, during pregnancy, or in individuals 60 years of age and older”.
In recent months, some experts have expressed concern about outbreaks in countries such as the Seychelles and Bahrain that were heavily immunized with Sinopharm or Sinovac, also from China.
Once in Australia, it’s unclear whether someone vaccinated with an unrecognized vaccine will even have the option of receiving two more doses of AstraZeneca, Moderna or Pfizer.
Ms Smith is grateful to have spent the pandemic in the vibrant Sri Lankan city of Colombo, inhaling barbecue chicken and biryani from the takeaway next door and gazing out at the ocean as morning and evening prayers echo around her.
It wasn’t easy, she says, describing the city’s lockdown as much stricter but shorter than those in Sydney and Melbourne.
She’s happily retired and doesn’t want to go back to Australia forever, but it’s been almost three and a half years since she’s been back to Sydney and her niece and nephew have children she’s never met.
Not to mention the sister she hasn’t seen in so long.
It’s not just that airlines are reportedly canceling the tickets of many unvaccinated airline passengers or that she still has to undergo and pay for the hotel quarantine.
The former financial services firm knows she won’t be able to catch up with a friend in a cafe or restaurant until at least December 15, when the unvaccinated are given more freedoms.
“What I really want to convey is the disappointment, the carpet being pulled from under us,” she said.
“We are in a worse situation than two weeks ago and the government just doesn’t offer us any hope.”
The Smits face an even more crucial crisis as they attempt to return to Tasmania before Mr Smit’s visa-related employment contract in Shanghai expires in six weeks.
The architects say they’ve looked at just about every option, even contacting 10 different countries to try and get two more doses of an approved vaccine, and nothing is feasible.
Ms Smith, a permanent resident since 1986 with three children and a grandchild born in Australia, said returning to Australia six months ago would have been “expensive but doable”.
“Since opening, Sydney has only had 200 places (for unvaccinated people in hotel quarantine). It’s almost impossible to get tickets,” she said.
“I just can’t. I’ve looked, believe me, I’ve looked at tickets and I can’t get anything for the next two, three, four months.
“It’s literal and then, you know, right now flights have two or three seats for unvaccinated people.”
The architect said she had been encouraged to take a DFAT repatriation flight, but that would mean going to Germany or Turkey first – currently a flight of over 13 hours in the wrong direction – and making it nearly impossible for her husband to live up to his work. long notice period.
Mr and Mrs Smith have the added complication of trying to reach Tasmania which means they will likely need to apply for a waiver to re-enter and quarantine on arrival.
The couple are stranded in the Netherlands, Australia – they had to go back to China to get eight months’ salary and to allow Mr. Smit to continue working – and now China, but are trying to remain optimistic in a difficult situation.
“I don’t necessarily sound like it right now, but we feel pretty desperate about the whole situation and pretty, yeah, it’s incredibly stressful,” she said.