Quebec’s mass vaccination program against COVID-19 is off to a strong start, despite some hitches on the first day.
Frail seniors faced long lineups and a shortage of wheelchairs Monday at some of the 15 vaccination centres on the island of Montreal. But by Tuesday, most of the problems had been ironed out.
By Wednesday, 35 per cent of Montrealers age 80 and over, and 11 per cent of those from age 70 to 79, had received the jab, according to Montreal public health director Mylène Drouin.
Since vaccinations started in December, 146,200 Montrealers have received the first dose. The first to get the injection were patients in long-term care facilities, followed by health-care workers, and then residents of private seniors’ homes. On Monday, seniors who live independently started receiving the vaccine.
By Thursday, 490,504 people across Quebec had been vaccinated — five per cent of the population. The vaccination campaign will gain momentum as more supplies of the vaccine become available and younger age groups become eligible, Drouin said Wednesday.
However, the rules on who’s eligible caused confusion this week. When registration opened a week ago, only people age 85 and over were eligible. The minimum age in Montreal and Laval dropped to 80 on Friday, 75 on Sunday and 70 on Monday.
In most of the province outside Montreal and Laval, the minimum age was lowered to 80 from 85 on Monday.
After receiving numerous questions from readers, the Montreal Gazette sought clarity from the provincial Health and Social Services department.
Q: Why has the minimum age for receiving the vaccine in Montreal and Laval been revised several times in the past week?
A: The age limit in each region is based on the availability of the vaccine. As the epicentre of the pandemic in Quebec, Montreal and Laval received more doses than the rest of the province at the end of February. This has enabled health authorities to lower the age limit for receiving the vaccine.
Q: On Monday, caregivers age 60 and over in Montreal and Laval who care for an elderly senior at least three days a week were told they could get the vaccine. But on Wednesday, Montreal’s public health department said only caregivers age 70 and over are eligible. Will appointments for people age 60 and over still be honoured?
A: The provincial health department did not answer this question by press time. So far, there has been no announcement to the effect that appointments would not be honoured.
Q: How will Quebec’s decision on Wednesday to delay the second dose of the vaccine to up four months after the first dose affect people who had been scheduled to receive their second dose this month?
A: Residents of the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Côte St-Luc and CHSLD St-Antoine in Quebec City will receive the second dose as scheduled next week. However, other people who had been scheduled to get the second dose starting March 15 will be contacted to have their appointments rescheduled.
Q: When will Quebec finish vaccinating people age 70 and over and move on to other age groups?
A: It is difficult to determine when the vaccination of the 70-plus age group will be completed, since that depends on the public’s response to the vaccination campaign. However, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Wednesday that delaying the second dose of the vaccine until April 15 would enable health authorities to vaccinate 250,000 people age 60 to 65.
Q: There have been reports of people who don’t meet age criteria jumping the queue. What is the government doing about that?
A: The government is working on changes to the Clic-santé website to prevent people who are not eligible from getting appointments. In the meantime, people must indicate their year of birth when making an appointment. If you don’t meet the criteria for the group that is being vaccinated in your region, please be patient and wait your turn.
Q: Can people register for the vaccine in a different area from where they live?
A: People should get vaccinated in the region where they live, since doses of the vaccine are calculated according to population. Also, people should not be making unnecessary trips.
Q: Who should avoid getting the vaccine?
A: Pregnant women should discuss the risks and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine with their doctor. People with allergies to any of the ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccine should not receive it. Vaccination of children under 16 is not recommended.
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