Quebec says COVID-19 vaccination appointments to be available to all adults by May 14

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MONTREAL — All adult Quebecers will be able to make a vaccination appointment by mid-May and receive a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday.

Quebecers aged 50 to 59 can begin booking appointments on Friday, Dubé told reporters in Quebec City.

Over the following two weeks, appointments will rapidly open to Quebecers in descending order of age — dropping by five years every two or three days — until May 14, when they will be available to people aged 18 to 24.

"By May 14, all of the adult population will have been able to take their appointment," Dubé said.

Dubé said that with the vaccine deliveries scheduled for May and June, the province will able to achieve its goal of offering every adult Quebecer one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the Fête nationale holiday on June 24.

"Now, there is no longer any doubt, we will be able to achieve our goal of June 24," he said.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's public health director, described the opening of vaccination to the general public as a dream coming true. "Having not enough vaccine was a nightmare, a nightmare to make choices between groups," he said.

Daniel Paré, head of Quebec's vaccination campaign, said the province expects to receive 450,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine every week in May. It's those doses that will allow the province to meet its goal, Dubé said, adding that the Pfizer deliveries have been reliable since January.

"We see no reason at this moment to doubt their capacity to deliver to us in the month of May, which is very important," he said.

Quebec also expects to receive 130,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, Paré said, and another 230,000 doses the week of May 10. Another 67,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected the first week of May.

Arruda said he expects the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will only be given to people over 45, same as for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dubé also announced that the government is adding special emergency restrictions starting Friday night to the Bas-St-Laurent region, northeast of Quebec City, where he said COVID-19 transmission is increasing.

Most of that region will be placed under an 8 p.m. curfew and non-essential businesses will be ordered to close. Elementary schools will remain open, though secondary schools will move to online learning.

Bas-St-Laurent reported 58 new infections Thursday, almost double the 28 cases reported on Sunday. The region has 174.3 active cases per 100,000 people, the second highest rate in the province.

"We need to be agile and act quickly," Dubé said.

Earlier on Thursday, Quebec's public health institute said it expects the number of active COVID-19 infections in the province to drop quickly starting in mid-May or early June because the pace of vaccination will soon accelerate.

Université Laval Prof. Marc Brisson, who works with the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, told reporters his new projections are more optimistic than his past two forecasts, particularly for the Montreal region.

"The main difference, which was a game changer in terms of our projections, was the announcement that there will be more than one million additional (vaccine) doses in May and in June," he said.

If people closely follow public health orders, Brisson's model forecasts that the number of active infections and hospitalizations in the Montreal region will remain relatively stable before declining.

Should people follow the rules less closely, the model forecasts an increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations, followed by a vaccine-driven decline.

In both scenarios, he said, the number of deaths in the Montreal area are expected to remain relatively stable as older people who are most at risk have already been vaccinated.

"For these more optimistic projections to actually happen, there has to be a high level of (vaccine) coverage and, at the same time, a good adherence to the public health measures," Brisson said.

In other parts of the province, particularly hard-hit regions such as Quebec City, Outaouais and the Chaudière-Appalaches region, south of the provincial capital, Brisson's model forecasts that relaxing public health orders could lead to exponential growth in infections in the weeks before vaccines begin to reduce the number of new cases.

Quebec reported 1,042 new COVID-19 infections Thursday and 10 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including three in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 20, to 623, and 165 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

The province said 69,501 doses of vaccine were administered Wednesday, for a total of 3,039,512. Quebec has reported a total of 348,732 COVID-19 infections and 10,913 deaths linked to the virus; it has 9,954 active reported cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press