Montreal essential workers can book vaccine appointments starting Friday in priority-list shift

Starting Friday at 8:00 a.m., Montreal essential workers will be able to book vaccination appointments online, and they should be able to start getting shots next week, the province announced Wednesday.

It's a change of policy that will allow this group to be vaccinated simultaneously with those with serious chronic illnesses, as Health Minister Christian Dubé hinted may be the case in a Tuesday-night announcement.

He unveiled more details the following morning. For example, people will need to bring proof of employment to get a dose. They also need to be not only living but working in Montreal.

This includes all staff in elementary and high schools, daycare workers, police and firemen, prison guards, social workers and other community workers who work with the vulnerable or in mental health.

It also includes some groups that will be much bigger outside of Montreal: people working in meat processing, temporary agriculture workers from other countries, and mine workers.

In Montreal, the group adds up to 150,000 people, according to the province's estimates.

As for proof of employment, Dubé asked workers to bring whatever documentation they can, though he said inevitably the health system also has to "base ourselves on people's good faith."

The shift in priorities will be applied to other regions as well, outside of Montreal, Dubé said, when they've gotten closer to reaching target numbers in the previous priority categories. The province is just starting with Montreal.

In explaining the shift, he said bluntly that the province re-evaluated what will help lessen the virus's impact.

"It's a question of evaluation of risk, but as well as optimizing the doses that we have so that we can always decrease deaths, hospitalizations and contagion," he said.

(1/2) À Montréal, on ouvre la vaccination à d'autres groupes prioritaires. Dès vendredi, les travailleurs essentiels (milieux scolaire et éducatif, pompiers, policiers, gardiens de prison, employé-es en alimentation ou dans le communautaire) pourront se faire vacciner. #polmtl

— Valérie Plante (@Val_Plante) April 7, 2021

PEOPLE IN 'ACTIVE TREATMENT' FOR ILLNESS ALSO NEXT IN LINE

Montrealers under 60 with serious chronic illnesses were previously listed as the group next in line, and they still are, at least on paper.

Quebec is scheduled to get so many vaccine doses in the next week, about three-quarters of a million doses, that the province says it can do both groups at once -- workers and the chronically ill -- at least in Montreal.

In a release, the province said that the following people will be included in the first group: anyone currently hospitalized with a condition that puts them at extra risk for COVID-19; patients treated in hospitals for dialysis; people with transplants; and people currently under treatment for cancer.

Anyone who needs to get their dose under the supervision of a hospital allergist is also included.

The people who do qualify won't need to book an appointment through the ClicSanté website -- they'll be given the vaccine by the doctor already treating them, likely at a hospital. 

For those with these conditions who cannot be vaccinated at a hospital, a pharmacist will be asked to help, the province said.

There's a much longer list of conditions that are also included in Category 8 of the vaccine priority list, including hypertension, dementia and psychosis, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, metastatic cancer, anemia and HIV, but people with those conditions won't be eligible right away.

Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said that right now, people getting frequent, ongoing care for their condition are being prioritized.

“These are people who are under active care,” he said. “If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, and you see a specialist every three months, you are in the category of chronic diseases that are not at high risk.”

“Some people are going through chemotherapy,” he said, adding people who “have to go [to the hospital] three times per week,” for example, will qualify.   

The province believes this group of the most medically vulnerable has about 150,000 people. 

“It’s not to exclude [others], but we need to make a choice based on the amount of vaccine we have right now,” said Dubé.

60 AND UP ACROSS MOST OF THE PROVINCE ELIGIBLE THURSDAY

The progression by age is also moving forward in more Quebec regions. Starting Thursday, people 60 years old and over will also be eligible to be vaccinated in most of the province.

Availability may vary depending on the region, said Dubé.

"Taking into account a limited number of vaccines in a few regions, appointments will be available in the upcoming weeks," said Dubé. "This is completely normal, because not all regions are at the same stage."

"My objective remains clear: to vaccinate as many Quebecers as quickly as possible, which is what we’ve done," said the minister.

He added that starting Thursday, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has drawn concern among some people, will be administered in walk-in clinics to all those born no later than 1966 (people ages 55 and up) who wish to receive it.

QUEBEC EXPECTED TO EXPAND VACCINATION CAPACITY

Dubé vowed to increase vaccine distribution in the coming months, up to 70,000 doses a day as early as next month.

With large shipments of vaccines expected in the coming weeks and months, Paré predicted the province’s capacity will continue to increase up to 130,000 doses per day in June.  

"That is what we are preparing everything for," he said.

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: A Montreal developer has created a website that makes finding a vaccine appointment even easier. Baptiste Laget, creator of vaxstat.ca 
 

- With files from The Canadian Press

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