Get a COVID vaccine wherever you can whenever you can, says region’s medical officer of health

Getting the shot counts as necessary travel says SMDHU head

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s (SMDHU) medical officer of health says you don’t have to stick to your home turf when seeking a COVID-19 vaccine.

During his regular weekly address to media on Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Charles Gardner said residents of Simcoe-Muskoka are free to travel to the GTA to get a vaccine, as it is ultimately for everyone’s wellbeing. “I’m actually in favour of people being able to be able to get immunized anywhere because it’s ultimately in our benefit.”

This is true even though we’ve long been told to avoid unnecessary travel. “If it turns out that you’ve got the opportunity in the GTA, at a pharmacy to go and get vaccinated, that, I think, would be an essential reason. It’s such a good idea to get vaccinated at your first opportunity,” he said, adding the province even allows this. “With the provinces booking system, you can actually book anywhere; it will give you closer to home options, but if you choose, you can book beyond those options in other locations.”

Currently, the province is maintaining a pilot program in the Toronto, Kingston, and Windsor areas whereby those aged 60 to 64 have access to the AstraZeneca vaccine at participating pharmacies. While residents outside those areas are permitted to book an appointment within, Gardner says the program is anticipated to grow. When that will happen is still up in the air. “I don’t know exactly when we will be receiving AstraZeneca vaccine in our pharmacies. I believe it will be in the near future but I don’t know exactly when.” It is expected the pilot will expand to include at least three pharmacies within Simcoe-Muskoka, while the exact locations have yet to be determined. It is hoped the province will expand this program even further, having vowed to commit 40 per cent of vaccine supply to pharmacy use.

While folks throughout Simcoe-Muskoka are permitted to travel outside the region to seek a vaccine, that means others can come within its borders, too. Gardner says the SMDHU’s pre-registration system is designed to ensure enough doses can be put into local arms before any vaccine tourists come through. He adds that won’t always be the case. “We’ve been encouraging people who are more local to book, and we might soon actually change our messaging with regards to that matter on our pre-registration system,” he commented, saying it soon won’t make sense to reserve the vaccines for locals only. “When you have a limited volume of vaccine happening at the beginning, there’s more of a rationale for that, but as the volume accelerates, then the main issue is to get everybody vaccinated, and to make it very easy for people.”

No matter where you get your shot, Gardner says it’s important to maintain the same healthcare safeguards as before. “When you go there, please go there for that purpose only, exercise your physical distancing and mask use, get that job done, and go home.”

While the province’s booking site does allow appointments to be made outside a resident’s home region, individual health unit booking sites, including that of York Region where the minimum age has been lowered to 70, will only accept appointments from locals.