Health minister to unveil plan later this week to address Quebec's nurse shortage

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Health Minister Christian Dubé repeated his promise that he will unveil a bold plan to recruit more health-care workers as Quebec struggles with a nursing shortage in the middle of a fourth wave of the pandemic.

"Nurses want a better working environment and that's what we'll put on the table," Dubé told a media scrum Tuesday morning at the National Assembly. "We cannot wait three years to pick up the 4,000 nurses that we need because we need to train them and they need to come."

He said more details will be unveiled Thursday to tell Quebecers how the province plans to bring back more workers and prevent a breakdown of services in the health-care sector. 

The Legault government says it is looking to speed up the hiring of nurses who retired or quit in the last six months with a global reorganization of health care.

"We have seen what is a winning combination during the vaccination. You've seen all those nurses that were happy to come back [to work] because they were working in a clean environment, a nice environment, the patients that were coming were happy to being served on time, no wait in line," the health minister said.

"All those best practices that we've seen working in [the vaccination campaign], I'm just making carbon copy and let's do that in the system. That's exactly what you'll see on Thursday."

On prépare les derniers détails pour une annonce importante jeudi prochain relativement à l’organisation du travail pour les infirmières afin de mettre en place un meilleur environnement de travail https://t.co/aPa0gP19q4

— Christian Dubé (@cdube_sante) September 21, 2021

Last week, he said there could be financial and professional incentives for returning workers as part of his plan.

At the same time, the province is struggling to get all of its health-care workers vaccinated, with several thousand still not immunized from the coronavirus. 

The numbers put the upcoming vaccine mandate into perspective. If thousands continue to refuse to get vaccinated by the Oct. 15 deadline imposed by the province, it could lead to a crisis in the health-care network.

Quebec is requiring all health-care workers get their two doses by that date or face suspension without pay. 

FIRST DOSES FOR KIDS

Dubé also reacted to the announcement from vaccine maker Pfizer this week that it will "soon" seek FDA approval for doses in children aged five to 11. 

Pfizer tested a lower dose of the vaccine -- a third of the amount in doses currently in use -- in 2,200 youth and found they developed adequate antibody levels as those found in teens and adults after two doses. 

"We need the FDA, we need the Santé Canada [approval], but I think it's a matter, I hope, that by November -- this is what I'm hearing right now -- that at least before Christmas, we could vaccinate a first time that category," Dubé said. 

Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech is approved for people 12 and older.

Schools represent the second-highest source of COVID-19 outbreaks in Quebec. As of Tuesday, school-related outbreaks accounted for 32 per cent of active outbreaks, behind work-related outbreaks at 42 per cent.

To deal with the rise of cases in school settings, the province has expanded rapid testing to elementary schools in 10 regions

The minister of health says vaccination is one step in keeping cases down among children who are still unable to get vaccinated as the more transmissible Delta variant continues to spread.

"It's a combination of measures that we need to follow, including the rapid test, until we are able to vaccinate [with the] first shot sometime, hopefully, in November or December," Dubé said. 

Pfizer Canada said it hopes to provide Health Canada with its data on trials in young children "as early as possible."

The company isn't the only one conducting vaccine trials in children. Moderna is also in the middle of testing elementary school-aged children, with results expected later this year.

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