Quebec makes AstraZeneca vaccine available to those 45 and older

Quebec became the latest province to lower the eligible age for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine today, as hundreds of thousands of doses remain unused.

Newly eligible Quebecers can get shot starting tomorrow, premier says

Quebec Premier François Legault, centre, speaks during a news conference Tuesday. Health Minister Christian Dubé, right, and public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda look on. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine will soon be available to more Quebecers, Premier François Legault announced Tuesday. 

Starting tomorrow morning everyone aged 45 to 79 will be eligible for the AstraZeneca shot. Up until now, people had to be at least 55 years old.

"I invite you to take this very efficient and safe vaccine," Legault said. "The vaccine is the way to regain our freedom but that will only happen when a majority of Quebecers are vaccinated." 

Eligible Quebecers can book an appointment on the Clic-Santé website or get the vaccine at one of the province's walk-in sites. 

According to Health Minister Christian Dubé, there are currently just under 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine available in Quebec and about 800,000 people who are now eligible to receive it. 

"So I would say, tomorrow morning, wake up early because it's going to busy on the appointments sites," said Dubé. "At the walk-in clinics, there will be lineups. That's for sure." 

Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said the province decided to lower the age for the vaccine because of Quebec's current hospitalization rates and epidemiological situation. 

"They are taking into account the epidemiology and the incidence rate which is going on here in Quebec," he said. "If things change, if our epidemiology gets worse, we could lower that age." 

A number of provinces have lowered the age of eligibility in recent days. Both Ontario and Alberta have made it available to those 40 and over. 

WATCH | Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda explains why they lowered age range

Why Quebec is lowering the minimum age for AstraZeneca to 45

1 year ago
Duration 0:54
Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda said that the decision is about balancing the risk-benefit of the vaccine.

At the federal level, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has yet to update its guidelines on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But according to documents obtained by CBC News earlier this week, the council is expected to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine be used "in people 50 years of age and older where COVID-19 activity is high and for those 40 years of age and older in areas where COVID-19 activity is very high."

On Sunday, the federal government also said the provinces and territories were free to expand eligibility for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to any adult over the age of 18 as some pharmacists warned they had doses sitting idle because of the age restrictions.

More appointments coming for chronically ill, says Dubé 

People wait in line at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Quebecers aged 45 and over can get the shot via appointment or walk-in sites starting tomorrow. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Dubé said that, because the province will be receiving more doses of the Pfizer vaccine than initially anticipated, appointments will soon be opening for more people with chronic illnesses, as well as for some with physical and intellectual disabilities. 

Right now, only a select group of people with certain chronic illnesses, who are either hospitalized or followed in hospital on an out-patient basis, are currently eligible for the vaccine in Quebec. 

But Dubé said they will be adding other chronic illnesses to that list later this week. 

"We have a lot of empathy for those people," said Dubé. 

Dubé said he would be announcing the exact details of who will be eligible and when in a news conference this coming Thursday. 

Because of the increase in Pfizer shipments, and the delays in the production of the Moderna vaccine, Dubé said public health is also looking at the possibility of substituting the second dose of the Moderna vaccine in long-term care homes with the Pfizer shot, since both are mRNA-based vaccines. 

Lockdown measures extended for hard-hit regions

Lockdown measures in Quebec City, the Chaudière-Appalaches and the Outaouais regions will be extended until at least May 3, the premier also announced Tuesday. 

That means the curfew, closure of non-essential businesses and schools being online only in those regions will remain in effect. 

Legault said that while the number of new COVID-19 cases seems to finally be stabilizing in the three regions, the hospitalization rate is still far too high to lift the restrictions. 

"Right now the number of people hospitalized increases every day so unfortunately we have no choice but to take all measures to reduce the number of contacts," said Legault. 

He said that when the time eventually comes to lift some of those restrictions in the regions, the province will make sure opening up elementary schools is first on the list. 

In the Chaudière-Appalaches region, Legault said hospitals are nearing their breaking point. 

"In the Beauce region, we had to transfer five patients in the last few days from the Hôpital de Saint-Georges to the Hôpital Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis," said Legault. 

In Montreal and Laval meanwhile, Legault said things are "surprisingly" stable at the moment. Still, he says it is too soon to push the 8 p.m. curfew back to 9:30 p.m., or to lift any restrictions, as the situation is still fragile for now. 

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