Quebec parents can now book an appointment for the new vaccine against COVID-19 for babies and preschool-aged children, with vaccinations beginning Monday, said Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Luc Boileau.
The announcement comes less than a week after Health Canada approved a first COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to four years. The Moderna vaccine called Spikevax can be given in doses one-quarter the size of that approved for adults.
Appointments are available now through the province's Clic Santé health portal and will be held in vaccination centres across the province.
Two doses of the vaccine are recommended to attain sufficient immunity against the virus. Quebec recommends waiting at least eight weeks between doses. Some immunocompromised children may be able to get a third dose, Boileau said.
A recent survey by Quebec's institute of public health (INSPQ) reported that 44 per cent of Quebec parents of children under four intended to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19, 40 per cent intended not to and 16 per cent were unsure. The survey data was collected between June 24 and July 6.
Boileau also addressed the seventh wave of pandemic infections in the province, which has continued to grow in the past month.
"It's on the way to becoming a plateau, but that doesn't mean cases will go down [yet]," the public health director said. "This virus has evolved. It's different and much more contagious. Variants in circulation may be less virulent thanks to vaccination, but they are very contagious."
Boileau said one person who has the BA.4 or BA.5 variant in circulation can infect up to 16 other people, compared to between one and three people early in the pandemic.
He urged Quebecers who have not received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the past five or six months to get one as soon as possible, no matter how many doses they have already had.
The Festival d'été music festival in Quebec City earlier this month contributed to a spike in cases in the region, Boileau said, adding that simply being outdoors does not mean people are protected from the virus.
He said masks remain an important protection, especially for people who are vulnerable to complications due to age or immunosuppression, but he stopped short of recommending them in public places.
"We're in a new world," Boileau said. "We're trying to learn to live with the virus, but these days it seems it's more the virus that's learning to live with us."
A journalist asked Boileau how Quebec could prevent the Pope's visit next week from becoming a superspreader event. Boileau said seniors in the crowd should wear a mask.
Health care system 'overloaded'
Quebec Premier François Legault spoke about the pandemic situation at an unrelated news conference earlier on Thursday.
He said the health-care system is "overloaded" but he doesn't see the need to reinstate any public health restrictions, such as mask mandates.
According to the provincial Health Ministry, 7,349 health workers are absent due to COVID-19.
Boileau stressed the fact that a person with COVID-19 remains contagious for 10 days, not five despite being allowed to venture out of confinement after five days. Boileau said the five-day rule is only for situations where the person has no other choice, and that they should wear a mask when leaving their home at that point.
Thursday, Quebec public health reported 2,110 people in hospital with COVID-19, 53 more than Wednesday and the level of positivity for the virus was at 14.9 per cent Wednesday.
Boileau and Legault both said about 60 per cent of people in hospital with COVID are in hospital for another reason, but when tested for the virus received a positive result. They said it showed that the seventh wave is not as vicious as previous waves.
People who are vulnerable to complications due to age or immunity can obtain a treatment for COVID-19, such as Paxlovid, by talking to their pharmacist, Boileau noted.