Grumbling about delays as mass COVID-19 vaccinations begin in Montreal

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Quebec’s mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 began in earnest in the Montreal area Monday with long lines and grumbling from some seniors upset at the wait times to get a first injection.

Hundreds of people, many holding walkers or in wheelchairs, waited in lines inside Montreal's Olympic Stadium; some were discouraged, others were angry.

"It's a catastrophe," Jean-Yves Plourde, 75, said moments after being vaccinated against the virus that has killed more than 10,000 people in the province, mostly seniors. Plourde said his appointment was for 11:45 a.m. but he wasn't vaccinated until 1:20 p.m.

"For the elderly, it seems to me that this is not a nice way to act," he said. Another man in line nearby commented: "This is badly organized."

Others were visibly relieved after they had received a shot. "I will be able to get out of the house and see my grandchildren," said a delighted Pasqualina Mancini, 72.

The province announced last week it was booking appointments for seniors aged 85 and up across the province, or 80 and above in Montreal. But by Monday morning, public health officials announced they were widening eligibility to those 70 and older in Montreal, Laval and the Cote-Nord region, while the age limit was lowered to 80 in three other regions, including Quebec City.

At the Olympic Stadium, some of those awaiting shots were in line close together, not respecting physical distancing rules. Folding chairs had been set up along the queue, and motorized shuttles transported some seniors around.

The operation has the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people a day, Julie Provencher, a spokeswoman with the regional health authority, said in an interview. She asked people not to be too harsh because it was the first day.

She also asked people not to arrive too early for their appointment to avoid creating long lines. Provencher said given the size of the operation, things were going relatively smoothly.

"For the first day of the biggest mass vaccination in the history of humanity, I think it's going OK," she said.

"People are happy when they get out; it's clear there is a delay."

The campaign began as health officials on Monday reported the lowest number of new, daily infections since September: 613 COVID-19 cases. Officials reported six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one that occurred within the previous 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by 11, to 612, and 122 people were in intensive care, a rise of five.

As of Monday morning, 200,000 appointments had been booked, Health Minister Christian Dube said on Twitter. Quebec began accepting appointments last Thursday.

Quebec expects to receive 100,620 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week, with no deliveries of the Moderna vaccine scheduled. The Health Department said 6,308 doses of vaccine were administered Sunday, bringing the total so far to 438,815.

Some regions started vaccinating members of the general population late last week, but the campaign is expected to speed up considerably with the opening of mass vaccine clinics in the Montreal area. Outlying regions are expected to ramp up vaccinations after the March break holiday, which takes place this week.

Quebec has so far concentrated its vaccination effort on health-care workers, people living in remote regions and seniors in facilities such as long-term care and private care residences. The province has chosen to delay giving second doses in favour of administering a first jab to as many people as possible, but Dube said last week it will provide second doses beginning March 15.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.

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

Stephanie Marin and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press