Vaccinations and Postal Codes

Until now, decisions around who gets vaccinated first has been based mostly on age, reflecting the fact that more than 95% of COVID deaths in the first two waves were among those 60 and older.

As those vaccinations continue and vaccine supply increases, the focus is shifting to those most likely to get infected. Across the city, this tends to be the folks who keep our retail and manufacturing businesses going, who live in apartment buildings, and who can’t work from home. Many don’t have paid sick leave and can’t afford to stay home if they or a family member is sick.

The easiest way to find these residents is by where they live, through their postal code, which is how the Province tracks cases, severe illness and mortality.

On Wednesday, the Premier announced that residents aged 18 and up in selected postal codes in COVID “hot spots” such as Toronto would be given priority access to vaccinations.

In Willowdale, the qualifying postal codes begin with M2M and M2R, encompassing a large area between Finch and Steeles, Bathurst and Bayview.

There are some obvious imperfections with this system, most notably that this large area includes many addresses that don’t fit the profile for priority vaccination. But there is a need for speed and simplicity, and a postal code system works with the Provincial vaccination website, which the City of Toronto also relies on.

The new rapid rollout is ambitious and depends on a steady flow of vaccines from the federal government. There may be some initial chaos. But this is an important step forward to lower case spread and reduce the dangerous pressure on our health care system.

For residents in the M2M and M2R areas, the only detailed information available as of today is for those born in 1971 or earlier. Anyone in that age group in those postal codes can now book a vaccination at any of the nine city clinics through Toronto.ca/covid19 or by phoning 1-888-999-6488. I have had many positive comments about the website, less so with the phone system.

For others, Mobile teams are being organized to administer vaccines in some highrises, congregate settings, faith-based locations and large employers.

While all of this new activity is starting, all residents born in 1961 or earlier can book an appointment at a City clinic. I have had nothing but glowing reviews about the clinic at Mitchell Field Arena, with a large number of residents praising its efficiency and caring, helpful staff. As of this morning, there were only a few appointments left at Mitchell Field for the next week but there should be some following that.

Please note that, although the website will direct you to the clinic closest to where you live, you can book at any of the city clinics, all of which are currently administering the Pfizer vaccine. As of today, many appointments were available this weekend at both the downtown Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the Congress Centre in Etobocoke.

North York General Hospital, where I was vaccinated, also offers three highly-efficient locations for those 60+, in addition to others with health conditions which put them at greater risk. You can find that information here.

Anyone born in 1966 or earlier can book an appointment for the AstraZeneca vaccine through a local pharmacy at covid-19.ontario.ca/vaccine-locations.

I have been contacted by several residents hoping to get their second dose sooner than four months after the first. An expert federal science panel just reviewed that issue and concluded again that it was safe to wait up to four months between doses and that the priority should be to get more first doses into arms, with the space between doses being reduced after that’s done.

The Pfizer vaccine is thought to be up to 80 percent effective two weeks after the first dose, rising to 90+ percent two weeks after the second dose. The AstraZeneca vaccine has lower percentages. But it is important to note that those percentages relate to infection, not illness. All vaccines are thought to be highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death among the small percentage who get infected after receiving them.

It is getting very dangerous out there; vaccination is an extremely safe way to protect yourself and those around you. I strongly encourage anyone who qualifies for a vaccine to make an appointment to get one as soon as possible.