Health experts say Quebec should learn from Europe and move quickly on COVID boosters

·4 min read

MONTREAL — The Quebec government's policy on COVID-19 vaccine boosters is soft, contradictory and disconnected, health experts lamented on Tuesday, as residents 80 and up became eligible to book appointments for third doses.

Quebec lacks a sense of urgency to get boosters into arms, Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre, said in an interview.

"They are softly recommending it," he said. "It kind of sounds like they are agreeing to give it, but not recommending it. And it’s perplexing for some of us as to why they don't think there is a need to roll out a third dose."

The government is relying too much on the protection offered by two doses without taking into account what is happening around the world, he added. "It’s almost like the government is celebrating their victory (against COVID-19) a little bit too prematurely."

New daily in cases in Quebec have somewhat plateaued, he said. The seven-day average for new daily cases in the province is 632.

But cases had also plateaued in Europe, Vinh explained, adding that European governments began loosening health orders. Now, he said, some European countries are reimposing tough restrictions following rising cases.

Last week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a three-week partial lockdown amid surging COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands, saying his government wanted to "deliver a hard blow to the virus.'' At the same time, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said his country would implement a lockdown for unvaccinated people in two hard-hit regions and looked poised to move forward with similar measures nationwide.

In Germany, the disease control centre urged people last week to cancel or avoid large events and to reduce their contacts, as the country's coronavirus infection rate hit a string of new highs.

Vinh said, "We are copying the same mistake as Europe," instead of learning from it.

The Quebec government announced last week it would begin expanding eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine boosters, following recommendations by the province's immunization committee. Residents 80 and up were invited as of Tuesday to book appointments for booster shots.

Quebecers aged 75 and over will be eligible starting Nov. 18 and those 70 and older can register as of Nov. 23. The government is also making residents of any age who received the AstraZeneca vaccine eligible to start booking third doses on Nov. 25.

But despite Health Canada announcing on Nov. 9 it authorized boosters for all adults across the country, Quebec says it doesn't see the need for that yet.

The Health Department did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday.

Dr. Karl Weiss, president of Quebec’s association of infectious diseases specialists, had similar comments to Vinh's.

Studies and new data, especially from Israel, indicate the need for a third dose for people 50 and up, health-care workers and those with certain risk factors, he said.

"Why is Quebec doing differently?" Weiss wrote Tuesday in an email, adding that most vaccines against viruses, such as hepatitis B, require three doses. Therefore, he said, a third dose to protect from COVID-19 should be seen as normal.

Vinh said the government should be announcing a plan to deliver boosters to health-care workers. "They are disconnected," Vinh said about Quebec's Health Department. "They haven’t even put out a policy for health-care workers who are exposed to COVID-19 patients — who may have been vaccinated seven months ago.

"I feel like right now, the Quebec government is in the middle of a lot of contradictory policies," Vinh said. "We all gave them the benefit of the doubt in the past because data was coming out so quickly, and sometimes it was hard to make a decision. But now, I think the dynamics have changed and yet the government is still making policies that seem somewhat contradictory."

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 517 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by two from the day before, to 200, and that the number of patients in intensive care rose by five, to 47.

Authorities said 9,345 doses of vaccine were administered in the past 24 hours. The province's public health institute said about 90.9 per cent of Quebecers aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 88.5 per cent were considered adequately vaccinated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 16, 2021.

— With files from The Associated Press.

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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