The Quebec government is expecting a rise in cases and hospitalizations in the Montreal and Laval areas because of its lower vaccination rates compared to the rest of the province.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé and the province's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, held an update on the vaccination campaign Tuesday, with the vaccine passport launching tomorrow.
Dubé said daily COVID-19 case numbers in the province have remained relatively stable, at around 600, over the past few weeks despite an initial rise in cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
But vaccination rates are lower in Montreal, especially among young people, he noted.
"Unfortunately, young people are the ones catching the virus these days and they stay in hospital longer. Their symptoms are worse because their immune systems go into overdrive," Dubé said.
About 80 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds have a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, province-wide. In Montreal, that number drops to 70 per cent and to 77 per cent in Laval.
Meanwhile, in the Quebec City and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean regions, it rises to 87 per cent.
The rate of a first dose across eligible age groups is at 86 per cent, and 79 per cent for those who've received a second dose.
Vaccination will soon be offered in and around schools, Dubé said, where parents can also get their shot.
Rapid tests for schools in 'hot zones'
A number of schools in neighbourhoods considered "hot zones," with increasing cases and low vaccination rates in Montreal and Laval, will receive rapid tests. They include Montréal-Nord, Saint-Michel and Parc-Extension in Montreal and Chomedey in Laval.
Calling September a "critical" month, Dubé said the province would send the tests to schools outside those areas if need be.
Dubé confirmed Quebec would be pushing ahead with its plan to make vaccination mandatory for all health-care workers. Ninety-one per cent Quebec's health-care workers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 84 per cent are adequately vaccinated.
Both he and Arruda stressed the importance of getting vaccinated amid the fourth wave.
"Will there be a new variant? Will that variant respond to the vaccine? Will we have to give everyone a third dose? I can't predict these things, but I can say that in the short term, vaccination is the solution," Arruda said.
Vaccine passport coming tomorrow
Dubé conceded the next two weeks would be a bit "rock and roll" for the businesses having to implement the vaccine passport starting tomorrow. But he reiterated there will be no penalties for non-compliance until Sept. 15.
He said several employers had contacted public health, requesting to use the vaccine passport for their employees. But that there are no immediate plans to mandate vaccination in workplaces — though he said he was aware some businesses have encouraged workers to get vaccinated.
Vaccination for children expected in the fall
Arruda said he expected Health Canada to give the approval for five- to 12-year-olds to be vaccinated this fall, which means they could receive a first dose as early as November or December.
"As soon as we're given the 'OK' and we have the doses, we will start vaccinating," Arruda said.
He added that those younger than five could be able to get vaccinated sometime after that, possibly in January.