Some Canadian snowbirds getting quick access to COVID-19 vaccine

by Leo Almazora08 Jan 2021

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Canada has proceeded more slowly than expected. In a recent report, BMO Chief Economist Doug Porter said the country has been a “relative underperformer” in immunizations; just 0.32% of the population has been inoculated compared to 1.4% for the U.S. and the U.K.

While it appears the majority of Canadians will have to wait some more to get their shots in the arm, some seniors vacationing in Florida for the winter are finding themselves unexpectedly fast-tracked.

According to CBC News, elderly snowbirds have been able to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine in the Sunshine State potentially months before they’d have access to it in the Great White North.

“Unlike many other U.S. states and Canadian provinces, Florida is offering COVID-19 vaccinations to seniors aged 65 and older during the first phase of its vaccine rollout,” the news outlet said, adding that the state is letting non-residents – including Canadian snowbirds – get the vaccine.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Florida’s Department of Health confirmed that anyone who can prove they’re at least 65 years old is eligible to receive a vaccine at no cost in the state.

Efforts to administer the COVID-19 vaccine are already under way in Ontario, but seniors who are not residing in a care facility scheduled to get their shots during Phase 2 of the rollout, which would be between April and July.

While Ontario has been panned for the sluggish pace of its vaccine program, Florida is facing flak of its own as complaints of long lineups at vaccine centres and difficulties in pre-booking due to high demand pour in.

In an Angus Reid Institute poll conducted in December, four fifths of Canadians (79%) said that they would want to either immediately or eventually get immunized if a vaccine against the coronavirus were to become available to them. Among respondents 65 and older, 61% said they’d want to be vaccinated as soon as it became available.

Martin Firestone, a Toronto-based travel insurance broker, told CBC News that around 50 of his clients who went to Florida for the winter have either gotten their first jab or have booked an appointment. He said almost 30 other snowbird clients are now considering the possibility of going there for that sole purpose, which he didn’t condone.

“It's the craziest reason to head down to another country,” Firestone said, highlighting the current risks of international travel. Even adequate medical coverage from travel insurance would be of no help if they were to fall ill and local hospitals were brimming with COVID-19 cases – a scenario not unimaginable given the U.S.’s world-leading position in infections and deaths.

At a news conference this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the state would not want to accommodate travellers who just ask for the vaccine and go back home afterward, though seasonal residents are “totally fine.”