As COVID-19 cases drop in Quebec nursing homes experts credit vaccine, other factors

The number of outbreaks and infections in long-term care facilities and seniors residences has dropped sharply, gerontologists suggest a number of factors are at play, including vaccination.

The number of outbreaks and infections in long-term care facilities and seniors residences has dropped sharply

Rosa Pellerin, a resident of the CHSLD Saint-Célestin near Trois-Rivières, receives a COVID-19 vaccine last month. (Submitted by CIUSSS Mauricie-Centre-du-Québec)

A Montreal gerontologist says the decline of new COVID-19 infections in the province's long-term care homes may be an early sign Quebec's vaccination strategy is working.

But Dr. Sophie Zhang, who oversees 15 long-term care centres in Montreal, says other factors are also likely contributing to the decline.

Four new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Quebec's long-term care network on Tuesday.

The number of active reported cases in the network has dropped significantly, from 840 on Jan. 16 to 85 a month later.

Quebec vaccinated all long-term care residents with one dose by late January, part of a plan that focused on giving one of two required doses to as many people as possible. The province has said it is on track to deliver a second dose within 90 days of the first one.

Newly-released figures from the Quebec government show the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 drops by 80 per cent between 14 and 21 days after a single dose. The immune response tends to build more slowly among more elderly patients, researchers said.

Zhang, who supports the province's vaccine strategy, says "vaccination is part of the package'' that has led to the decline in the number of new cases in long-term care.

"What we're seeing is a combination of several things in synergy and really working together to decrease the cases and mortality,'' she said in an interview Tuesday. The lockdown and curfew, she added, have also contributed to the decline in the overall number of active infections in Quebec.

Improvements in prevention, infection control have helped

Long-term care centres have also improved infection control and prevention measures since the first wave, Zhang said.

Dr. David Lussier, of the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, says that while vaccination is probably helping to reduce cases in long-term care, it doesn't explain why private seniors residences — where less than half the population has been vaccinated — have also seen a drop in new cases.

There are currently 317 active cases of COVID-19 in seniors' residences, compared with 1,756 a month ago.

Joyce Shanks, a member of the Family Advocacy Committee at Maimonides, the long-term care centre where the first doses of vaccine were administered in Montreal, says she's still worried.

Her father, who lives at Maimonides, received one dose of vaccine more than 60 days ago but has not received the second.

"We're holding our breath, we're not breathing a sigh of relief,'' she said Wednesday.

with files from Sean Gordon

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