Canada

Montreal snowbirds head to Florida for COVID-19 vaccine

As condo owners at a popular retirement complex, they discovered they were eligible to receive the vaccine, which was being administered at the resort over eight days this month.

Many Montreal snowbirds who were loath to winter in Florida during the pandemic had an abrupt change of heart recently after receiving an offer too good to pass up.

As condo owners at a popular retirement complex in Broward County, they discovered they were eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which was being administered at the resort over eight days, starting Jan. 5.

The surprising news arrived on New Year’s Day in an email from the management firm that runs the large resort, where thousands of Quebecers reside each winter.

Canadian snowbirds who own or rent property at the retirement complex are eligible if they’re over 65. The email included a link that allowed Quebecers to choose a date for the first of two vaccinations.

“About 10 to 12 couples who were not intending to come down ended up coming for the vaccine,” a Montreal snowbird said in a phone interview from Florida. “They’re happy to be here. They feel lucky.”

Other winter-weary snowbirds, who had decided to fly south in late January, moved up their departure date so they could avail themselves of the offer.

A Montreal snowbird in his 80s is scheduled to get the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday. That’s months ahead of tens of thousands of Quebecers over 80 who live at home.

Vaccinations for that group are scheduled to begin the week of Feb. 15. Seniors will be able to book an appointment by phone or by using the website Clic Santé.

But seniors will likely have to wait between 42 and 90 days for a second jab, because the province is delaying the followup dose so it can inoculate as many seniors as possible, as quickly as possible.

Thousands of snowbirds stayed home this winter because they were worried they might not receive adequate care in crowded Florida hospitals if they were injured or became ill.

“We were leery, and we thought friends who went down in the fall were very brave,” said one woman, who didn’t want her name published.

She and her husband had been adamant that they would only return to Florida after they had been vaccinated in Quebec. They never imagined they would be able to be inoculated down south.

They decided to travel after a friend — a front-line health-care worker in a CHSLD — called on New Year’s Day to say her second shot was being delayed.

The snowbird, whose husband is in his 80s, feared it could be months before he received both doses in Quebec. “We have been following the research, and it says the second dose (of the Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine should be 21 days after the first,” she said.

Several physicians in her family advised them to make the trip. “They said to go down there because you will be protected.”

The couple booked their first vaccine appointment for Jan. 12 — the last day it was available at the condo complex — and made plans to have their vehicle transported to Florida. They paid $1,700 for door-to-door service.

“I emptied my pantry because I’m not used to online shopping,” the woman said. “The car carrier said food could go in the back seat, but not higher than the window.”

Three days following their arrival, they received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after lining up for only 15 minutes.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed Tuesday that snowbirds who own or rent property are eligible for the vaccine.

About 70 per cent of Quebec’s 250,000 snowbirds have remained home this winter because of the pandemic, according to CAA-Quebec.

All international travellers must quarantine for 14 days once they return to Canada. Quebec Premier François Legault has asked the federal government to stop all non-essential flights down south.

Many of the Montreal snowbirds who flew to Florida to be vaccinated plan to stay for several months.

“Life here is a lot easier than in Montreal,” one said. “You can order online from many grocery stores and they deliver in less than two hours.”

On Thursday, five or six recently vaccinated Montreal couples enjoyed a sunny day at the beach, while remaining several feet apart. “It was 75 degrees, the sun was shining and it was glorious,” one woman said.

Like many Quebecers, she said, she had become lethargic after so many months at home. “We are golfers, bikers and walkers,” she said. “We were really vegetating in Montreal.”

The snowbirds say they’re planning to quarantine for two weeks upon their return home.

“We feel extremely fortunate that we have our health and we are able to do this,” the woman added. “We made the right decision.”

kwilton@postmedia.com

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