Quebec enlists companies to operate vaccine hubs to fully immunize 500,000 by August

·4 min read

MONTREAL — Quebec is looking to enlist up to 50 companies across the province to operate vaccination hubs to help accelerate its immunization campaign for people under 60, Health Minister Christian Dube said Friday.

The partnership between the Health Department and the private sector will provide some much-needed relief to Quebec's strained health network, Dube told reporters during a virtual news conference.

"Our objective is to reduce the pressure on the health-care system," Dube said. "If there are more companies that raise their hand in the coming weeks, all the better, we can reduce the pressure even further."

To be part of the program, companies will have to commit to vaccinating between 15,000 and 25,000 people over a 12-week period between May and August. Companies will need 10,000 square feet of space to run a hub, but firms without that kind of space can still contribute employees to the effort.

Companies will be responsible for vaccinating their employees as well as workers at nearby companies, but Dube said they will also offer injections to local populations. The vaccine offer at these hubs, Dube added, will be in addition to injections administered at sites in arenas, convention centres and pharmacies.

Dube said the companies chosen will be located in areas that can help plug holes in the public distribution system, to reach more people.

"If you take a map of Quebec, one of the things we need to do is have something that is complementary also," Dube said at the Montreal headquarters of CAE, an aviation technology company that will operate a vaccination hub. "In what regions do we need to have those sites to make sure they are complementary to our public system?"

Quebec will provide the vaccines and necessary equipment and run the online appointment portal. The program will begin when residents under the age of 60 become eligible to be vaccinated, with a goal of fully vaccinating 500,000 Quebecers. Dube said he's looking for between 20 and 50 companies to administer a total of one million vaccines.

Daniel Pare, head of Quebec's vaccination rollout, told reporters he's confident there are many employees in companies across the province who have what it takes to vaccinate people.

"We as a health network will partner with these businesses to make sure they have the right training, right competency to ensure the vaccination that is going to be done at businesses will be the same quality and as safe as in the public sector."

Dube said companies are asked to apply to be part of the rollout, adding that he plans to announce the vaccination hubs on April 5.

Quebec is allowing everyone 65 and older across the province to register for a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Late Thursday, the province's appointment portal opened vaccinations for that age bracket in all 15 health regions, after opening them to Montrealers one week ago and Abitibi-Temiscamingue and Cote-Nord residents earlier this week.

The government intends to vaccinate five million people with a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the next 100 days. Quebec has so far vaccinated 10.3 per cent of the population, with 872,459 doses administered as of Thursday.

Quebec set a record with 38,459 jabs on Thursday, which is when Dube received his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, telling reporters afterwards he was confident every adult Quebecer wanting a vaccine will be able to get their first dose by June 24.

Health officials announced they were extending a vaccination blitz scheduled to begin Monday in two Montreal neighbourhoods with high levels of community transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant. The operation initially only targeted parents of children in schools and daycares in the area, but following outcry from the two communities, officials on Friday said the campaign will also include teachers and daycare staff.

Quebec reported 764 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and 11 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 15, to 504, and 99 people were in intensive care, a drop of two. There are 6,851 active reported COVID-19 infections in the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press