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How Canadians will know when it’s their turn to get vaccinated

With the recent announcement that Health Canada has approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, the second being made available to the public, Canadians are likely wondering when it will be their turn to get inoculated.

But with the country currently in the first phase of vaccine rollout, that’s still unclear, with much depending on what they do and where they live.

It’s up to each individual province and territory to decide how the vaccine will be administered. But generally, they are following the recommendations put forward by the federal government’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). The advisory committee made these recommendations using experts in the fields of pediatrics, infectious diseases, immunology, pharmacy, nursing, epidemiology, pharmacoeconomics, social science and public health. 

Who is getting vaccinated first?

For the first phase of the vaccine rollout plan, NACI advised that initial doses should go to these four groups:

  • Residents and staff of long-term care homes.
  • Adults 70 and older, beginning with people 80 and older, then decreasing by five-year increments to 70 as supply becomes available.
  • Health-care workers, including all those who work in clinical settings, and personal support workers who come in direct contact with patients.
  • Adults in Indigenous communities, where infection can have disproportionate consequences.

priority vaccine canada

For Phase 2 of the vaccination rollout, NACI recommended that recipients include:

  • Health-care workers who are not part of the initial rollout.
  • Residents and staff of all other congregate settings (e.g., living quarters for migrant workers, correctional facilities, homeless shelters).
  • Essential workers, including police, firefighters and those in food production.

Provincial and territorial governments may make modifications to that list. For example, Alberta’s plan separates the first phase into Phase 1A and Phase 1B — with First Nations, Métis and persons 65 years of age and over living in a First Nations community or Métis Settlement not getting the vaccine until the second half of the first stage.

In Quebec, it was recently decided that caregivers over the age of 70 who visit residential and long-term care homes at least three times a week will be added to the high-priority group.

As for Phase 2, many regions have not yet prioritized who will be eligible or defined who will be considered an essential worker.

The first phase is expected to wrap up for many provinces by the end of March, while the second phase could last into mid-summer.

When is the general public expected to receive a vaccine?

Much of that depends on the province or territory. In Ontario, retired general Rick Hillier, the head of the province’s vaccination distribution task force, said he believes “we can get into a lot of mainstream Ontario by later July.”

But other provinces, such as Alberta, have pegged the fall of 2021 as the beginning of the third phase, when the general population will receive the vaccine.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the entire country should have enough doses on hand next year to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot by the end of September. But those timelines may differ depending on the province and territory.

Where do I get the vaccine?

For the first stage, because the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech must be kept frozen between –80 C and –60 C, the vaccine is being administered at clinics across the country equipped with special freezers. That means some of the vulnerable living in long-term care centres are unable to get the vaccine because it can’t be transported to care homes, and many residents are unable to travel to the clinics.

covid 19 vaccine
The Public Health Agency of Canada says the entire country should have enough doses on hand next year to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot by the end of September. But those timelines may differ depending on the province and territory. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

However, the approval of the Moderna vaccine, which doesn’t have the same onerous storage requirements as the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, means some of those residents may have access to vaccination in long-term care homes. It also means that people in northern remote and Indigenous communities who weren’t able to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will start receiving the Moderna vaccine.

By the second phase, vaccines should become more widely available at more sites, including hospitals and potentially some pharmacies.

For the the third phase, family doctors’ offices and pharmacies will likely offer the vaccine. Hillier said that getting a COVID-19 vaccine during this period should be no harder than getting a shingles or flu shot.

How do I find out when it’s my turn to get vaccinated?

During the first phase, health officials are urging the general public not to show up at vaccine clinics set up across the country. Many regional health officials are contacting those who are eligible, or those who are eligible are being notified through their employer. In Manitoba, appointments are being made by phone, with a new online system to be launched in early 2021.

As for the general public, who don’t fit into the priority groups, British Columbia, for example, is currently putting together a system that will allow the public to register for access to the vaccine and to be formally recorded as being immunized.

Mostly, however, provinces are still developing those plans.

WATCH | Rick Hillier on whether the Moderna vaccine works with just one shot:


The head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, retired general Rick Hillier, wants Health Canada to see if a single dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine offers enough protection to avoid a second shot. 1:14

For more information about each province and territories’ vaccine rollout plan, click on their government website:

Who shouldn’t get a vaccine yet?

The national advisory committee has recommended that certain populations not be vaccinated until more evidence is gathered about potential risks. They include those who:

  • Are immunosuppressed due to disease or treatment.
  • Have an autoimmune condition.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.

However, a  COVID-19 vaccine may be offered to individuals if a risk assessment deems that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Will Canadian snowbirds have to fly home for a shot?

According to the Canadian Snowbirds Association, for those snowbirds currently in Florida, the state’s vaccination plan states that residency will not determine access to the COVID-19 vaccine. This means that non-residents, including Canadian snowbirds, will be able to receive the vaccine in the state when it is more readily available in the coming months.

The same applies for Canadian snowbirds in Arizona.

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