Long lines among the snafus on first day of Quebec's mass vaccination program

Quebec's vaccination campaign against COVID-19 accelerated in Montreal on Monday as mass vaccination sites, including at the Olympic Stadium and the downtown convention centre, opened to city residents as young as 70.

And while some people grumbled about long lines, one of the largest vaccination centres had virtually no wait times by mid-afternoon. Julie Provencher, a spokeswoman with the health authority for east-central Montreal, asked people not to be too harsh because it was the first day.

"For the first day of the biggest mass vaccination in the history of humanity, I think it's going OK," she said in an interview at the Olympic Stadium.

On Monday morning, hundreds of people, many holding walkers or in wheelchairs, waited in lines inside the stadium; some were discouraged, others were angry.

"It's a catastrophe," Jean-Yves Plourde, 75, said moments after being vaccinated against the virus that has killed more than 10,000 people in the province, mostly seniors. Plourde said his appointment was for 11:45 a.m. but he wasn't vaccinated until 1:20 p.m.

"For the elderly, it seems to me that this is not a nice way to act," he said. Another man in line nearby commented: "This is badly organized."   

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  • Others were visibly relieved after they had received a shot. "I will be able to get out of the house and see my grandchildren," said a delighted Pasqualina Mancini, 72.

    It was a different scene at the Montreal convention centre, where the only wait was the 15 minutes people were asked to stay after they received their vaccination -- a precaution intended to monitor people for adverse reactions.

    Serge Tremblay, who was sitting in the waiting room, said it took about 18 minutes from the time he arrived until he got his injection. Nearby, Andre Falardeau said, "It went faster than I expected; I made my appointment for 3:30 and at 3:10, the shot was done."

    Falardeau said he was pleased to get the vaccine. "It's going to make life easier, that's for sure. You can't fool around for the time being, but at least you feel secure and that's the important part," he said.

    The province announced last week it was booking appointments for seniors aged 85 and up across the province, or 80 and above in Montreal. On Monday morning, however, that was expanded to anyone 70 and older in Montreal, Laval and the Cote-Nord region, while the age limit was lowered to 80 in three other regions, including Quebec City.

    At the convention centre, 2,000 people were scheduled to get vaccinated Monday, said Dr. Louis-Xavier D'Aoust, medical co-ordinator of the vaccination campaign for the regional health authority in south-central Montreal. The facility is able to handle 3,000 people a day but is limited by the supply of vaccine.

    "We timed all the appointments and the different steps of the process to avoid any wait times and, so far, we're pretty happy about that," he said in an interview. Those vaccinated at the convention centre on Monday also received appointments for their second dose, scheduled to take place in 84 days.

    As of Monday morning, 200,000 vaccine appointments had been booked, Health Minister Christian Dube said on Twitter. Quebec began accepting appointments last Thursday.

    Quebec expects to receive 100,620 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week, with no deliveries of the Moderna vaccine scheduled. The Health Department said 6,308 doses of vaccine were administered Sunday, bringing the total so far to 438,815.

    Some regions started vaccinating members of the general population late last week, but the campaign is expected to speed up considerably. Outlying regions are scheduled to ramp up vaccinations after the March break holiday, which takes place this week.

    Quebec has so far concentrated its vaccination effort on health-care workers, people living in remote regions and seniors in facilities such as long-term care and private care residences. The province has chosen to delay giving second doses in favour of administering a first jab to as many people as possible, but Dube said last week it will provide second doses beginning March 15.

    The campaign began as health officials on Monday reported the lowest number of new, daily infections since September: 613 COVID-19 cases. Officials reported six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one that occurred within the previous 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by 11, to 612, and 122 people were in intensive care, a rise of five.

    Eligibile Quebecers can make an appointment to receive the free COVID-19 vaccine online or by calling 1-877-644-4545. 

    This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.

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    This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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