Saint-Leonard, RDP among Montreal neighbourhoods with lagging vaccination rates: public health

Montreal's pockets of relatively low vaccination are becoming especially obvious as the fourth wave picks up, city health officials said Wednesday.

In many cases, that's certain neighbourhoods. In others, it's age groups. The city is working on both problems, in different ways.

"Unfortunately, unvaccinated people are the ones who risk overloading the health network over the next few weeks," said Centre-Sud CIUSSS director Sonia Belanger.

That's increasingly clear, she said -- in the last few weeks, 87 per cent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Montreal didn't have both vaccine doses, while 71 per cent of those who ended up in the ICU hadn't gotten any doses at all. 

The vaccine won't stop people from contracting nor passing along the virus, Belanger and city public health director Dr. Mylene Drouin reminded people in a press conference.

However, it does protect well against severe illness and keeps strain off local hospitals, whose ERs are currently at an average capacity of 110 per cent.

SEVEN NEIGHBOURHOODS WITH LOW VACCINATION 

Another thing that's becoming clear is that certain parts of the city are lagging.

Overall, Montreal's vaccination rate is quite high at 84 per cent of the eligible population, stressed Belanger and Drouin.

But it's lower in some areas, said Drouin, including Riviere-des-Prairies, Montreal North, Bordeaux-Cartierville, Saint-Leonard, Mercier East, Saint-Michel and Parc-Extension. 

That's leading to a higher COVID-19 positivity rate right now, she said -- on average, in Montreal, 4 per cent of COVID-19 tests come back positive, but some neighbourhoods are driving up that average.

"There are certain regions for which there's a higher rate, and there's really a direct correlations between these neighbourhoods and a lower vaccination rate for the population," she said, naming the seven neighbourhoods.

There are also still differences in vaccination when it comes to age, she said.

"The group that we still have a lot of progress to do is the teenagers, age 12 to 17, with 62 per cent of them vaccinated, and we're adding mobile clinics in different high schools," Drouin said.

Last weekend, the city also held a special vaccination clinic for young video-game fans at the Palais des Congrès that involved well-known gamers, Drouin said.

Between all the efforts, the overall rate is slowly going up. Public health teams are still giving about 6,000 vaccine doses per day in Montreal, Drouin said.

CASES RISING MOST AMONG CHILDREN, THE ELDERLY

The virus is clearly circulating within Montreal in a new wave, Drouin said. More than a third of cases this summer were imported by travellers, but "right now we're in more of a sustained community transmission," she said.

The most vulnerable groups are children and the very elderly. In the last few weeks, there's been an increase in cases among all age groups, Drouin said, but an especially significant increase among kids under 12 -- who cannot yet get vaccinated -- and people over 85.

There are currently more than 136 outbreaks on the island, including 61 at workplaces, 28 at schools, 24 at daycares and 14 in health-care facilities.

However, while the rate is going up, it's not spiralling exponentially, she noted, which is a good sign.

"I think it's encouraging to see that the progression is not exponential," Drouin said.

She asked people to remember that if they're vaccinated, they can still be infected but they'll be much more likely to show very mild symptoms -- so mild that they may be tempted to ignore them.

That's a mistake, she said, since even a mild infection can still be passed along to someone else who might be hit much harder.

"If you have any symptoms," she said, "even light symptoms... do not go to work, do not send your children to school, do not visit grandma and grandpa, and of course, get tested as soon as possible."

CITY WILL ADD MORE TESTING SPOTS

Drouin faced questions over the multi-hour lineups that many Montrealers have been facing in the last few days as they try to do the responsible thing and get a COVID-19 test when needed.

"We saw that we have delays, but we're working on it," said Drouin.

Testing options have narrowed over the summer, with some of the more popular walk-in clinics having closed. That's led to families, in particular, waiting on the sidewalk outside of the few remaining options with their kids in tow.

Drouin said the city's looking at a mix of options, including adding back more walk-in sites, increasing capacity for testing at CLSCs and adding more rapid tests into the mix.

At the same time, it's not just clinic availability, she said -- it's often the same teams of health workers qualified to do the tests that are currently occupied doing targeted vaccination, whether roving or stationary, and there's also lab capacity, though Montreal hasn't yet reached its limit yet on that.