Montreal renews push to get over 55s to take AstraZeneca vaccine

·3 min read
The AstraZeneca walk-in slots were popular when the first opened last week, allowing the province to administer more than 140,000 doses of vaccine over a 48-hour period. But demand appears to have dropped off. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The AstraZeneca walk-in slots were popular when the first opened last week, allowing the province to administer more than 140,000 doses of vaccine over a 48-hour period. But demand appears to have dropped off. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Authorities in Montreal are attempting to rekindle enthusiasm for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine while around 200,000 doses remain unused in the province.

The city's mayor, Valérie Plante, said in a tweet Thursday the vaccination campaign "wasn't going as we would like." She noted there are many appointment slots available and almost no line-ups for the walk-in clinics.

"If you're eligible, go now to get vaccinated," Plante said.

More than 75 per cent of Montreal's population over the age of 60 has received a vaccine dose but the numbers are lower for those between 55 and 60, a senior Montreal health official said earlier in the day.

"Go get vaccinated. We have the sites. We have the vaccines and we have the personnel," said Sonia Bélanger, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

Quebec received an unexpected shipment of 400,000 doses of AstraZeneca earlier this month. It made them available on a walk-in basis to people between the ages of 55 and 79, pending Public Health approval for the vaccine's use in younger populations.

The walk-in slots were popular when they were first opened last week, allowing the province to administer more than 140,000 doses of vaccine over a 48-hour period.

But demand has since dropped, with some suggesting there are lingering concerns among the public about the blood clots that have been reported in a minuscule number of people who have received the AstraZeneca shot.

In recent days, some media outlets in the province have run photographs of empty vaccination centres. One tabloid said staff were left playing sudoku because of the lack of demand.

"We knew that the bad publicity would make certain people reticent," Montreal's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, told Radio-Canada.

Health minister unconcerned

Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday he wasn't concerned by the fact that large vaccination centres, such as arenas and conference centres, were being underused.

Quebec has the capacity, in terms of space and trained personnel, to vaccinate up to 125,000 people per day. For the past week, it has averaged around 65,600 doses daily.

"I'd rather have the problem of trained people twirling their thumbs, but who are ready to respond quickly, like they did last week," Dubé said at a news conference in Beauceville, south of Quebec City.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday he wasn't concerned by the fact that large vaccination centres, such as the Olympic Stadium, were being underused.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday he wasn't concerned by the fact that large vaccination centres, such as the Olympic Stadium, were being underused.(Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

That capacity will be deployed more fully in June, he said, when the province is expected to receive 4 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Between now and the end of May, Quebec's priority will be vaccinating essential workers who are at high risk of exposure to COVID and those with chronic illnesses, along with continuing to vaccinate health-care workers and administering scheduled second doses.

"What that means is that toward the end of May, when we will have dealt with categories eight and nine [chronic illness sufferers and essential workers] we will be able to go on to the general population," Dubé said.

That timeline, though, could be brought forward if there is more uptake for the remaining AstraZeneca doses, the minister added.

Dubé also suggested that Quebec could soon revise its safety guidelines on who is eligible for the AstraZeneca shot.

"There is so much pressure, and there is such a shortage of vaccines at the moment, that I hope Public Health will adjust its guidelines in the coming days," he said.