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The complications of getting COVID-19 vaccinations for non-residents in Ontario

Booking a COVID-19 vaccination in Ontario can be a challenge for anyone. It seems on any given day, there appears to be more demand than supply.

Now consider what it may be like for those who are new to Canada — many struggling with English or trying to navigate a system that often leaves more questions than answers.

Where can I book? Which vaccine do I qualify to receive? Am I eligible to receive any vaccine because I’m not Canadian or a permanent resident?

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In fact, governments have affirmed that anyone in Canada — regardless of their citizenship status — is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s their turn, based on age, postal code, or other factors.

“We are in a public health pandemic and unless we can protect everyone, we can’t protect anyone,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

But Hussan told Global News that non-Canadians are frequently finding it difficult to sign up for vaccinations, in part because Ontario’s online booking system requires a health card number, which migrants frequently don’t possess.

“People are beginning to tell others not to get vaccinated, it’s not possible,” Hussan said.

Read more:
Shifting more vaccines to hot spots will help reduce hospitalizations, deaths: Ontario science table

“Once that’s set in stone, it’s going to be much more difficult to make a change down the road,” he said.

Toronto software engineer Harsh Dhillon and his mother qualified to be vaccinated.

Dhillon booked appointments at a downtown Shoppers Drug Mart, but when they arrived to get their shots, the pharmacy turned them away.

The reason? Charanjit Kaur, age 60, does not have an Ontario health card.

“She (the pharmacist) said she’s just following the rules,” Dhillon said.

Click to play video: Ontario science table calls for more vaccines to be reallocated to hardest-hit communities

“It was a bit of a shocker, a big disappointment,” he added.

When Global News contacted Loblaw Companies Ltd., which owns Shoppers, the company apologized.

“Unfortunately, there was some confusion regarding eligibility at this location,” a spokesperson said in an email.

“We have contacted the associate owner and clarified the criteria,” the company said.

But this is not an isolated case, according to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“Many of the pharmacies, like Shoppers, are refusing to provide (vaccinations) without health cards,” said Hussan.

And there’s another worry for many non-residents: a fear that their personal data will be shared with police and immigration authorities.

Click to play video: Vaccine pop-ups in Ontario’s COVID-19 hotspots

“We need to have the absolute clarity that this information will not be shared with immigration or policing agencies,” said Dr. Michaela Beder, a Toronto psychiatrist who works with migrant communities.

She and others are asking the Ontario government to remove the health card requirement to book a vaccination on the province’s website.

“There are terrible barriers for people without OHIP,” said Dr. Vanessa Redditt, a family doctor who also works with vulnerable communities. She says it’s important to shed light on the issue which affects thousands.

For Dillon and his mother, however, the pharmacy denial didn’t last long. On the same day that Global News contacted Shoppers, mother and son were invited back and received their first shots.

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