The most popular reader question received by Vaxx Populi is, “When can I get vaccinated?” The answer used to be relatively simple, as high-risk health care, long-term care settings and vulnerable Indigenous communities were prioritized in the first phase pretty much across the country. Now, as more and more vaccines are distributed in Canada, the criteria for snagging an appointment are expanding, resulting in some wildly disparate qualifications depending on where you live in Canada. Presently you can get vaccinated if you’re on dialysis in Saskatchewan, a naturopath in York Region of Ontario or a 25-year-old rotational worker from New Brunswick who works outside the province but returns frequently on a set schedule.
Some provinces don’t make it easy to tease out the information. For example, on March 23, Ontario released the latest iteration of its Phase 2 mass immunization plan, which grouped eligible “essential workers who cannot work from home” into two very detailed categories, for example, with “elementary/secondary school workers (including educators, custodial, school bus drivers, administrative staff)” in the first group and “essential and critical retail workers (including grocery, food bank and non-clinical pharmacy workers, ServiceOntario workers, ServiceCanada and Passport Canada workers, wholesalers and general goods, restaurant workers, LCBO)” in the second.
As well, it outlined which specific medical conditions qualify Ontarians for the three categories of “individuals with health conditions” (for example, those with “Kidney disease eGFR< 30” are in the “highest-risk” category). And yet, though some of those details are on the province’s public vaccination plan site, many of the specifics are only found on the “COVID-19 Vaccine-Relevant Information and Planning Resources” page of the “health care professionals” section of the Ministry of Health site. In other words, not the first place you’d look.
Further, the variety of vaccination criteria and the speed at which they are evolving can be both confusing and overwhelming. In Toronto, there are registration processes (and criteria) for each of the city’s 26 hospital clinics (such as this one from Unity Health), another process for its mass vaccination sites, and still another for the shots available at select pharmacies, to say nothing of pop-up clinics in hard-hit areas. (Though, to be fair, the city’s size of three million people is bigger than the combined populations of all four provinces of Atlantic Canada.)
In contrast, Prince Edward Island has perhaps the clearest, most concise eligibility and appointment booking information of any province. Near the top of its main page, in a yellow highlighted box, P.E.I. asks those in age cohorts to book based by birth month. So, starting on March 29, everyone 65 to 69 years old who were born in January, February and March could book an appointment, with those born in April to June asked to wait until Tuesday to schedule their shots. (On March 29, P.E.I. temporarily suspended its AstraZeneca program, which had been focused on young essential workers aged 18-29, after a new recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations that the AstraZeneca vaccine only be given to people 55 and older because of a low risk of blood clots in younger adults.)
Here is some basic advice to make the process less confusing and stressful:
- Focus on your own province or, for provinces with bigger populations, your own public health unit.
- Go directly to a government or PHU site by typing its name (Saskatchewan, Peel Region) and “vaccine.” Most have vaccination program landing pages, with links to eligibility requirements. There are also hotlinks for each province provided below.
- Spend time reading the information and navigating around the vaccine information and booking pages. That will make booking an appointment a lot more efficient. For instance, British Columbia outlines exactly what information a person needs to make an appointment, including a Personal Health Number, if available, as well as what information will never be asked (SIN or banking details).
- When in doubt, ask for help: Ask friends, family, relations and also call provincial and municipal governments. Some residents in apartment buildings are helping neighbours book appointments.
British Columbia: On the main page, which includes eligibility criteria, the “Call to get vaccinated” button throws users to a booking page with links to local health units, who are handling the bookings.
While the province is currently using AstraZeneca doses in areas with the highest transmission, it expects to be giving them to essential workers by late April. Those plans may be reworked as, on March 29, B.C., like other provinces in Canada, temporarily suspended using that particular vaccine for those under 55. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said she would have more information about the vaccine in the next few days.
It has broken its Phase 2 into four distinct groups (for example, those with chronic liver disease are in Group B, which is expected to get vaccines in April).
Saskatchewan: It has eligibility and booking on one page and even includes a YouTube video demonstrating the appointment system. Right now, residents with underlying health conditions that make them “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19 are being sent letters to confirm their eligibility; these letters are required for booking an appointment.
Manitoba: The main site includes a “Is it your turn to be immunized? Learn more” button directing residents to a #ProtectMB page that has vaccine eligibility and appointment information as well as a sign-up for a weekly newsletter on the program, including updates on who is currently eligible. The site also includes detailed vaccination statistics and a queue calculator that shows a person’s place in line (for those 50-59 with no health conditions, there are around 167,000 Manitobans ahead of you).
Ontario: The main provincial site has information as well as a general booking button that then directs you to its main booking page. The site also has a detailed pharmacy list including hotlinks for those eligible for AstraZeneca shots.
Quebec: The main vaccination page offers eligibility information (linking to the prioritization plan for each health region) as well as a prominent “Make an appointment to get vaccinated” button.
New Brunswick: Its main vaccine website puts the most important information—who can get vaccines and how—at the very top. As the province works through its Stage 1 list, each currently eligible category is adorned with a big bolded arrow and a “now eligible through…” note, which has a hotlink to its booking site. While “workers who regularly travel across the border, including regular commuters, truckers and rotational workers” are eligible for vaccines right now, the time hasn’t yet come for sheriffs, police officers and public health inspectors.
Those 40 and older with specific health conditions in Stage 2 can book their April appointments now.
Nova Scotia: Its main page prominently displays essential buttons, including booking an appointment, the provincial distribution plan and information on the COVID-19 vaccines. The booking site has two basic options: booking through a community clinic or at a pharmacy (divided into four regions for ease of use).
Prince Edward Island: No one can miss the most important information on the main vaccine page as current eligibility and booking information is at the top of the page in bright yellow boxes. Just below that is a button to the online booking system, which even includes calendars for the individual vaccination sites (for example, as of March 29, the next available slot at the O’Leary clinic was on April 19).
Newfoundland and Labrador: Its main page is stripped of all but the most essential details. Instead of an online booking system, it has a pre-registration sign-up list, which is currently “available for people ages 70 years and older, home support workers, and Indigenous adults.” Once there is an appointment available, someone from a local public health authority will contact those who have pre-registered to book an appointment.
The three territories in the North have been on an accelerated immunization schedule since December, in recognition of their high-risk status, and are so far ahead of the south that at least half their eligible adult populations have already received first doses, compared to a national rate of 12 per cent. Their vaccination rollouts are so far advanced that the only current eligibility restriction for Yukon residents is that they be 18 or older.
As Canada rolls out the country’s most complex vaccination project to date, Maclean’s presents Vaxx Populi, an ongoing series in which Patricia Treble tackles the most pressing questions related to the new COVID-19 vaccines. Send us a question you’d like answered at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have specific questions about your own health, we recommend consulting a family doctor or the local public health authority in your area.