Quebec to start vaccinating essential workers, people with chronic illnesses

Teachers, school staff, police, firefighters and other essential workers who work in Montreal will be able to make appointments on the Clic-Santé website as of Friday, while some people age 60 and younger in Montreal who have chronic illnesses will be vaccinated as of Monday.

Vaccinations for those groups begin in Montreal on Friday for essential workers, Monday for chronically ill

Quebec will soon start offering vaccines to people with chronic illnesses and essential workers who live and work in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Over the coming days, Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers and people with chronic illnesses in Montreal.

School staff, daycare workers, police, prison guards, and people who work in slaughterhouses in Montreal are among the essential workers who will be able to make appointments on the Clic-Santé website as of Friday, said Health Minister Christian Dubé. They will be asked to bring proof of employment.

Some people age 60 and younger in Montreal who have high-risk chronic illnesses or underlying conditions will be eligible to get vaccinations starting Monday. 

The Health Ministry issued a document Thursday clarifying what qualifies as a chronic illness or underlying condition. The list includes:

  • 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.
  • Patients who need to get vaccinations under the supervision of an allergist.

For weeks, the government has been questioned on when people with chronic illnesses would be able to get their vaccines, and what the criteria would be for eligibility.

A photograph of a teleprompter at a new conference Wednesday where Quebec officials announced they were expanding vaccine coverage to those with chronic illnesses. By the end of the end, the government was unable to detail which illness would qualify. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

There remained considerable confusion about this issue even following Wednesday's announcement by Dubé and Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda.

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Arruda initially told reporters only those receiving active treatment from hospitals would qualify for the vaccine. Then later in the day the provincial Health Ministry published a list online of chronic illnesses that would qualify someone for receiving a dose.

Late Wednesday evening, that list had been removed from the government's website and replaced with a statement that said more details were to come.

On Thursday, the list was replaced by a set of guidelines that set out who can be vaccinated and how establishments should go about organizing vaccination efforts.

You can consult those guidelines, in French, here.

How the choices were made

Why slaughterhouse workers but not grocery store employees? Why people in Montreal but not those who live in other hotspots?

The choices that were made are largely a function of vaccine supply, authorities said.

For the workplaces, they chose places where there have been outbreaks that were difficult to control, said Arruda.

"It's always a question of the number of available vaccines and [choosing] the places where we can intervene to have maximum impact. It's not at all about considering one [group of workers] more essential than another."

And they are starting in Montreal and not other places in the province because Montreal is the only place where a significant number of people 60 and up have been vaccinated, Dubé said.

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AstraZeneca available to those 55 and up

Dubé also announced that as of Thursday, people 55 and up across the province will be able to go to certain mass vaccination sites to get inoculated without an appointment. Those sites will mainly offer the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, he said.

The walk-in locations in Montreal include the Olympic Stadium, Palais des congrès, the Montreal General Hospital and Bill Durnan Arena. 

The exceptions are the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Lower Saint-Lawrence, Gaspé, Magdalen Islands and the Côte-Nord regions, where walk-ins will begin Friday, and the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, where AstraZeneca will not be available due to the strain of variant spreading there.

Dr. Karl Weiss, a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at the University of Montreal, said that, broadly speaking, AstraZeneca is "a good vaccine to prevent serious illness from COVID-19."

Grocery store workers are not considered to be essential workers when it comes to getting a COVID-19 vaccine. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

For those over 55, he said, any potential risks from AstraZeneca are far lower than the benefits of being inoculated, given that older people are more likely to be susceptible to COVID-19.

Montreal health officials said they hoped large numbers of people would take advantage of the chance to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The city's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, said Wednesday that polling among the age group eligible for the vaccine suggested more than 40 per cent would be willing to get it.

"Obviously we we're not expecting 100 per cent support," she said. "But if we can cover a good number of those between 55 and 60, we'll consider it a success."

The government said Tuesday that vaccination appointments will be open to all Quebecers 60 and over by the end of the week.

Quebec's goal is that everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get their first dose by June 24.

with files from Radio-Canada's Tout un Matin