Quebec will begin vaccinating people 85 and older next week

Quebec is expected to receive 600,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next six weeks.

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Clarification: An earlier version of this story discussed a media report that Quebec would start vaccinating people 70 and older. That report was incorrect.

Quebec will begin vaccinating seniors age 85 and older against COVID-19 starting next week, a development Premier François Legault described Tuesday as the first step in “beating the virus.”

At the same time, however, Legault said he remains concerned about the new COVID-19 variants circulating in Quebec and warned cases could spike if Quebecers let their guard down.

Legault made the announcement during a news conference in the Olympic Stadium’s atrium, one of Montreal’s mass vaccination sites.

“The hope is there. We see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not that far away,” the premier said. “Within weeks our most vulnerable people will be vaccinated.”

Quebec will begin the campaign with people born in 1936 or earlier while prioritizing people living in the Greater Montreal area, where the number of active cases remains higher.

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It will then move on to people who are 80-84, followed by 70-79 and 60-69. The rest of the adult population under the age of 60 will follow afterward. It is not yet clear when the next phases will begin, but the government said it will publish weekly progress reports.

The province says it has already given a first vaccine dose to all residents of long-term care homes (CHSLDs) and by the end of the week, all other seniors’ residences will have been covered. About 200,000 health-care workers have also received the first dose since mid-December.

Quebec estimates there are another 200,000 people who are 85 and older who don’t live in CHSLDs or private seniors homes. It expects the majority of them to receive the first dose within two weeks.

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Under certain circumstances, caregivers who accompany a person 85 or older could also be vaccinated at the same time, the government said. The caregiver must be 70 or older and provide support to their loved one at least three days a week.

People can sign up for their shot online starting Thursday by visiting quebec.ca/vaccincovid or calling 1-877-644-4545. The government is strongly recommending people sign up online to avoid creating long wait times on the telephone line.

Once people receive the first dose, they’ll be given an appointment for the second.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said authorities are looking into ways of reaching those who live alone or have mobility issues that would prevent them from going to a vaccination site.

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Dubé said the main challenge is that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can’t be moved, so the province has no choice but to get people to the sites. It has asked local health authorities to identify community organizations that could help accompany those in need.

Government authorities have also been in contact with large companies about eventually having them help with the vaccine rollout. That could include identifying people within the companies who have medical backgrounds and could be trained to administer the vaccine.

Dubé said much of the rollout’s success will depend on how many vaccine doses Quebec continues to receive in coming weeks.

The province is expected to receive 600,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during the next six weeks. It received 107,640 doses this week and 28,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

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Tuesday’s announcement came as Quebec recorded 739 new COVID-19 cases and 13 more deaths. That included 360 new cases and four deaths in Montreal.

Saying all indicators are trending in the right direction, Legault mentioned the government is looking into reopening more sectors following March break if the situation remains stable.

But he warned if Quebecers don’t respect the health measures during the break, the situation could quickly take a turn for the worse — especially given the COVID-19 variants now circulating in the province.

“Next week will be a big test,” Legault said of March break. “What happened during the holidays can’t happen again. It’s not time to hold gatherings in homes, cottages or hotels. We can’t end up with an explosion of cases.”

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Quebec’s director of public health, Horacio Arruda, said it was a public health recommendation to reopen movie theatres, arenas and pools during March break.

Arruda said he feels it was a necessary step to give families options during the break and prevent overcrowding at certain sites.

“But it’s not because we’re softening (restrictions) that people should get together and have big parties,” Arruda said.

jfeith@postmedia.com

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