Rich Canadian snowbirds, people who evade cold winters by living part-time in warmer climates, are flying to Florida to get the COVID-19 vaccine—some even chartering private jets—as Canada’s vaccine campaign continues its slow and confusing rollout.
In Florida, everyone over the age of 65, including people without U.S. citizenship, are able to schedule vaccination appointments at no cost. Vaccine demand is so high in Florida that it’s difficult to secure a spot, CTV News reported. CTV spoke with a couple who paid to get on a private flight, which can cost between $2,500 and $4,000 per seat or tens of thousands of dollars for an entire plane. The couple cited mental health as the main impetus to fly to the U.S.
“Instead of waiting here in Canada for God knows how long, I could go down to Florida and get vaccinated,” 65-year-old Ontarian, Jeff Lerner, told the National Post. According to the Post, Lerner and his wife, also 65, are considering travelling to their gated community in Boca Raton, just north of Miami.
Similarly, Canadians snowbirds over the age of 65 will be eligible to get vaccinated for free in Arizona in the coming weeks.
Canada’s vaccination timeline is nebulous, with few Canadians, including seniors and many essential workers, knowing when they’ll be eligible to get jabbed in the arm. Experts have repeatedly called on Canada’s federal and provincial governments to speed up the vaccine rollout and to publicize concrete plans. For now, officials are scrambling to figure out how to administer the two-dose vaccines, particularly Pfizer’s, which has to be stored in -70 C. Doctors also say the lack of official communication makes it difficult for Canadians to trust the rollout.
As of Friday, about 248,348 of Canada’s initial 545,250 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered across the country. In Florida, 384,223 people had received at least one of two vaccine doses as of Thursday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly urged snowbirds to stay home.
“It is safer for people to stay at home, in Canada,” Trudeau told reporters earlier this week. “I understand that people are still looking at travel but we discourage it strongly.”
Trudeau said there won’t be mass repatriation efforts to bring people abroad back home if they become stranded this year. He has also said international travellers who get sick after they return are not eligible for financial subsidies.
There are over 1 million snowbirds in Canada, according to Evan Rachkovsky, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Canadian Snowbird Association. Most opt to live part-time in Florida, Arizona, or California—three states that have suffered severe COVID-19 outbreaks.
Martin Clavet-Bedard, the vice president of Richard's Motel Family of Lodgings, a business catering to Quebecers in Florida, told CP24 he sees the state’s vaccine approach—which ignores the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s suggestion to prioritize vaccines for essential workers like teachers and grocery store workers—as a possible boon for business.
“The promotion will be ‘vaccines and good weather this winter in Florida,’” Clavet-Bedard told CP24.
Rachkovsky said there is no evidence to indicate a massive increase in snowbirds travelling south to get the vaccine.
“The vast majority of snowbirds in Canada have already made a decision on whether or not to travel this season, with approximately 70 per cent choosing to stay home,” Rachkovsky said in a statement to VICE World News.
He also noted that Canadians who receive a vaccine abroad still have to quarantine for 14 days when they return.
“Canadian seniors receiving a vaccination in Florida, at their own expense, means they are not taking vaccines away from Canadians who can’t travel,” Rachkovsky said.
Yet, in Canada, there will eventually be more than enough vaccine doses to go around. The country has ordered the most doses per capita in the world, with 8.9 vaccinations expected per person. Critics around the world are accusing Canada of hoarding shots that could otherwise go to poorer countries.
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