Canadians moving from province to province or relocating temporarily face a confusing set of rules about whether or when they can get the COVID-19 vaccine, which experts say could delay some to get vaccinated.
Provinces like British Columbia vaccinate anyone who is eligible who resides there. This contrasts with jurisdictions like Alberta and Manitoba which might require documents proving how long a person has been in the province. They could also ask non-residents to wait up to three months to make an appointment.
Inconsistent policies across the country are leaving some Canadians waiting longer than necessary to receive their vaccine. Anita Ho, bioethicist and health services researcher, said no matter where a Canadian lives in Canada, they should have access to a vaccine.
“The Canada Health Act states that all Canadians and residents should be able to obtain health care,” said Dr. Ho.
“We are in a pandemic. We have an emergency. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to think about how residency should be a barrier for people to get vaccinated. “
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Dr Ho said the Canada Health Act requires provinces to provide portability so people can access emergency care if they are away from their home province. In general, a person who moves to another province must wait three months before applying for health coverage; in the meantime, they are covered by the province they left.
She said from a fairness standpoint, if a province is vaccinating people from outside the province, the law should be reciprocal.
“There shouldn’t be any isolated province that says no,” said Dr Ho.
British Columbia offers the vaccine to anyone living in the province and does not require a British Columbia health card or documents proving Canadian citizenship, said Marielle Tounsi, senior public affairs officer at the Ministry of Health of British Columbia.
Vaccines are booked through an online service, but people without a card can register by phone or in person at a Service BC office. Eligible registered applicants receive a temporary reference number which they present during their vaccine appointment. People who received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in another province can receive their second dose in British Columbia
In Alberta, any non-permanent resident must live in the province for at least three months to be eligible for the vaccine. Pharmacists or immunization clinics may request written documentation proving the time a person has spent in the province. However, Tom McMillan, deputy director of communications for Alberta Health, said the documents are not needed because the province “operates on the honor system.”
Undocumented residents of the province must register with Alberta Health Services, which will issue them with a unique lifetime identifier to track immunization records.
Manitoba officials say anyone who has been in the province for a month can be vaccinated, but pharmacists and vaccination clinics do not need official documents proving the length of stay. Non-residents will need to provide ID so the province can track these vaccinations, said Joss Reimer, medical lead for the Manitoba Vaccine Task Force. However, the province has no way of proving whether a person received their first dose in another province.
“They will be asked to declare themselves,” said Dr Reimer. Manitoba is currently prioritizing the administration of the first doses of the vaccine to all eligible Manitobans.
The Ontario government says on its website that anyone without an Ontario health card is eligible for the vaccine and suggests contacting a local public health unit where they will request another form of identification and confirm eligibility.
A person can also call a pharmacy to reserve a second dose if the first injection was received in another province. The pharmacy can request information about the vaccine, where it was administered and when, but the website does not indicate whether this information may disqualify a candidate. There is also no mention of how long a person must stay in Ontario to be considered eligible for shooting.
On the East Coast, Nova Scotia offers vaccines to everyone living in the province, regardless of the length of their stay. However, it will not offer a second dose of the vaccine if the first dose was given in another province. Nova Scotia recommends making an appointment by phone if an eligible candidate does not have a Nova Scotia health card, said Marla MacInnis, media relations advisor for the Department of Health and Welfare. be from the province.
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