Maimonides, struggling to contain COVID-19, prepares to receive first doses of vaccine in Quebec

A team of experts has been working on the strategy around the vaccinations at Maimonides Geriatric Centre for days. A simulation exercise will take place this week ahead of the expected arrival of the vaccines next week, according to a letter sent to residents and their families.

Vaccinations at the CHSLD in Côte Saint-Luc could begin as early as Monday

Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Côte Saint-Luc is one of two CHSLDs in Quebec that will receive the Pfizer COVID-19 as early as next week. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

One of the first long-term care homes in Quebec to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be ready to proceed when the doses arrive, according to a spokesperson for the local health authority.

Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Côte Saint-Luc, part of the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, is expected to get a box of the Pfizer vaccines next week, pending the vaccine's approval by Health Canada.

A team of experts has been working on the strategy around the vaccinations for days. A simulation exercise will take place this week ahead of the expected arrival of the vaccines next week, according to a letter sent to residents and their families.

"We will be very organized, almost army-like, to be sure that ... everything goes off without a hitch," said Francine Dupuis, a senior administrator at the CIUSSS.

Quebec has put long-term care home residents at the top of its priority list for the vaccine, followed by health-care workers.

Maimonides and the Centre d'hébergement Saint-Antoine in Quebec City will be the first two establishments to start vaccinating residents before more doses of the vaccine arrive in the province two weeks from now.

By Jan. 4, the province expects to have vaccinated between 22,000 and 28,000 people.

Dupuis said it's still unclear how many people will agree to be immunized.

Dr. Richard Massé, a senior provincial public health adviser, said residents will be given priority, but employees at Maimonides will also be vaccinated.

"They work together, they can transmit the infection to each other. We've seen that happen. These are people who are at a high risk of being infected," he said.

Massé explained that Maimonides was chosen as one of the first sites because it would be able to store the vaccines properly and the clientele would benefit from being vaccinated.

Logistical concerns

Dupuis said considering all the logistical complications around the vaccine — the doses can't be separated, finding rooms to give them in, the very detailed instructions from Pfizer — she is glad the government decided to try things out on a smaller scale first.

Francine Dupuis, CIUSSS spokesperson, says it is paramount that none of the doses of the vaccine are wasted. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada)

An outbreak that began at the home last month has left more than a dozen residents dead. Dupuis said an on-site prevention and infection control team will be part of the vaccination process, and those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 after Nov. 16 won't be vaccinated in the first round.

The vaccines, which must be stored at extremely low temperatures — Pfizer says in a freezer at –80 C to –60 C or in a thermal container at –90 C to –60 C —  can't be moved from Maimonides, and plans are being made in the event that they have too few or too many doses.

If there are too many, they are looking at the possibility of allowing people from other nearby care homes to be vaccinated there, she said.

Residents, staff must make decision

Beverly Spanier, a resident at Maimonides, said she wants to get the vaccine.

She isn't sure how exactly the process will work — she said usually, vaccines are given in individual rooms, but considering the Pfizer vaccine's storage requirements, she doesn't know if that will be the case.

"I am very, very glad. The quicker we get a vaccine to the Quebec population, the better, and certainly this nursing home needs it."

Josée di Sano, whose mother Maria de Clemente has Alzheimer's disease and is a patient at Maimonides, says she is "ecstatic" about the vaccine's arrival.

"I'm guessing that a good 99 per cent of the people who are in there are going to get it, because I think they're just tired of being in their rooms," di Sano said.

Her concern is that some staff will refuse.

"If someone decides they don't want the vaccine, that's their right, but I don't think they should be allowed in the building," she said.

Di Sano said the centre already has trouble with staff shortages and the vaccine is needed to keep workers healthy.

Maxime Dupont, who works at Maimonides, said out of about six colleagues, he knows one who is currently thinking about taking the vaccine.

He doesn't plan on doing so.

"We want the politicians to take it first, and we'll see what happens."


with files from Radio-Canada and Jay Turnbull


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