At risk for COVID-19 and not sure you're eligible for a vaccine? Here's what the province says

Conflicting public health announcements seem to have created some confusion among Quebec pharmacists and chronically ill patients, but the health ministry says eligibility criteria has not changed since last week.

Conflicting information leaves some confused, but ministry says eligibility hasn't changed

Vaccine appointments opened up for some Quebecers with chronic diseases this week, but mixed messaging has some confused whether they are eligible for the shot or not. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

One week after the Quebec government announced vaccines would be made available to Montrealers with certain chronic illnesses, some patients say the regulations are still unclear as to who exactly is eligible.

That confusion, some of them say, stems from the province's public health news conference Tuesday, when the province announced it would be opening up vaccine appointments to those with chronic illnesses and some essential workers in the rest of the province. 

Why the confusion?

Daron Basmadjian, a pharmacist at Proxim Arto Basmadjian on Côte-des-Neiges Road, has been fielding phone calls from patients with chronic diseases all week, wondering if they could book their COVID-19 vaccine. 

He says the confusion stems from some of the information disseminated at recent provincial public announcements. 

"As of right now, there's nothing we can do for those people," said Basmadjian. "What hasn't helped is in the press conferences, several times it's been mentioned, 'well your pharmacy will get in touch with you.' We don't have the framework to get in touch with everybody." 

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda encouraged patients to call their pharmacists. 

"At the pharmacy people can have access to your medication and then it's going to be the kind of proof," said Arruda. "If you go to your pharmacist it's going to be the best way to have your vaccination done." 

Many of his clients, Basmadjian said, took that to mean that everyone with a chronic illness should contact their pharmacy to see if they are eligible for the vaccine and book an appointment. 

Despite some confusion among pharmacists and chronically ill patients, only those who are either hospitalized with certain conditions or followed on an out-patient basis are currently eligible for the vaccine. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press file photo)

Some pharmacists even began contacting their patients thinking they were eligible for the vaccine and then later had to cancel the appointments when the regulations were clarified, he said. 

According to Health Ministry guidelines though, only those who were included in the vaccine priority list released last week and who cannot get vaccinated at their hospital or by their attending physician, can be vaccinated at a pharmacy. 

"Don't call the pharmacists for now, the pharmacists will call you," said Benoit Morin, president of the Association québécoise des pharmaciens propriétaires. "If you have a disease — a chronic disease — and your pharmacist thinks that you can get a shot from the pharmacist, he will call you."

What chronic illnesses are included in Quebec's vaccine campaign right now? 

So far, only those who fit the following criteria are eligible for the vaccine in Quebec: 

  • People who are hospitalized due to a chronic illness such as heart, kidney or lung disease, obesity, hypertension, certain forms of immunosuppression (including cancer patients), diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and Down syndrome.
  • People on dialysis for kidney failure, on an outpatient basis.
  • People being treated for a solid organ transplant, bone marrow transplant or certain kinds of cancer, on an outpatient basis.
  • People with advanced neurodegenerative issues or other conditions causing significant difficulty in managing respiratory secretions, who are followed on an outpatient basis. 
  • Patients who need to get vaccinations under the supervision of an allergist.

Which essential workers can be vaccinated? 

  • Elementary school and high school staff.
  • Staff in child-care facilities.
  • Public security workers (firefighters, police officers and detention centre workers).
  • Temporary foreign farm workers.
  • Slaughterhouse workers.
  • Mining workers in remote areas.
  • Community workers included in the Programme de soutien aux organismes communautaires.

Who else can be vaccinated right now? 

All Quebecers who are 55 and over, with the exception of those in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, are eligible to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)
  • Health-care workers, including dentists and pharmacists.
  • People between the ages of 55 and 79 can get the AstraZeneca vaccine, except in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region.
  • People aged 60 and over across the province.

With files from Sarah Leavitt