Quebec will begin vaccinating elderly members of the general public against COVID-19 starting next week as officials urge caution during the upcoming spring break.
Premier François Legault said Tuesday that anyone 85 years or older will be able to register and obtain their first dose as the government expands its inoculation campaign.
“Vaccines are our best hope to beat this battle,” he told reporters at Montreal’s Olympic stadium, a future inoculation site.
The rollout, which was launched in December 2020, initially focused on giving a first dose to the elderly who lived in long-term care homes and seniors’ residences, which were hard hit by the health crisis. The government also prioritized health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic as well as people who live in remote regions.
Legault says the mass vaccination of the elderly who live at home will begin in the Greater Montreal area because of the high number of novel coronavirus infections.
Anyone born before 1936 will be able to make an appointment for their first dose starting this Thursday by phone or online starting Feb. 25. Quebecers are being urged to register online, but those who cannot can call 1-877-644-4545.
“The reason we privilege the internet is because you won’t have to wait,” said Health Minister Christian Dubé.
Dubé also acknowledged that the government understands it may be difficult for some seniors to get to their appointment, but unfortunately the vaccine cannot be moved due to how it must be stored. The government is working with community organizations to help those with reduced mobility get the vaccine, he added.
“We ask if they can be accompanied by a caregiver or someone who can help them because right now we cannot move those vaccines,” he explained.
Dr. Don Sheppard, an infectious disease physician with the McGill University Health Centre and medical microbiologist, said he believes it’s logical to start with seniors when it comes to mass vaccinations.
“COVID is ageist,” he said.
“Sadly, COVID preys on people more and more as you get older and older and it only makes sense that once we have tools at our disposal to help prevent deaths and hospitalizations we get them to people at highest risk first and roll them down the line.”
Members of the general public are asked to bring their medicare cards to their appointments, where they will also be given a date for their second injection. The booster is expected to be offered within 90 days of the first dose.
“Hope is there,” Legault said. “We are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Concerns about March break, variants
While mass vaccination gets underway, Quebecers are being asked to be careful and limit their social contacts over the next few weeks.
Officials are concerned about the upcoming school break in the province, according to Legault. He said people should “avoid gatherings in order to avoid a third wave” and described it as a “test” for the province.
“Please during spring break, please don’t think it’s party time at all,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec public health.
Legault also cautioned the public about the growing number of suspected cases linked to COVID-19 variants.
Quebec has seen a downward trend in infections, deaths and hospitalizations in recent weeks, but the public health institute reported 484 presumptive cases linked to variants Tuesday. So far, 23 cases of coronavirus cases have been confirmed.
“The numbers we see can change very quickly if we let our guard down, Legault said.
However, if the situation continues to improve in Quebec then it is possible more public health restrictions will be lifted or eased in the near future.
“What I said is if the situation continues to go in the same direction we can expect to reopen theatres in the next few weeks,” he said.
Quebec reported 739 new cases Tuesday and 13 more deaths attributed to the virus, including one that occurred in the past 24 hours. COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 680, and the number of intensive care patients rose by three, to 120.
The pandemic has claimed the lives of 10,330 Quebecers to date. The province’s case count stands at 283,666.
—With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian PressView link »