Quebec may vaccinate essential workers alongside next priority group, starting imminently

UPDATE: Montreal essential workers can book vaccine appointments starting Friday.
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Quebec is getting ready to open up vaccine eligibility, including, for the first time, to people with chronic health conditions and essential workers -- and those two groups may get shots concurrently, with the help of a huge windfall of vaccine doses. 

In a Tuesday press conference, Health Minister Christian Dubé said some essential workers are  considered crucial right now, including those "at a high risk of spreading" the virus.

That includes teachers, daycare workers, prison guards, police officers and community workers, he said.

The province has come up a plan that may allow such workers to be vaccinated alongside people with chronic conditions, if supply allows, Dubé said. The details will be announced Wednesday.

"Depending on the number of vaccines that we have, can we do them in parallel? That's what we're discussing with public health," he said.

"All essential workers will have a plan tomorrow as to how that will evolve."

BIG BATCHES OF VACCINE DOSES ARRIVING

Whatever is announced Wednesday, Quebecers can expect to see a flurry of activity next week at the vaccine sites, well beyond what's happened up until now, said Dubé.

Tallying how much was coming from each manufacturer, he said it adds up to around 740,000 doses all coming within a week. Quebec hasn't vaccinated more than 50,000 people in a day, but Dubé said he expects the province to be able to ramp up its efforts without issue. 

"I hope that Thursday and Friday we'll be able to do 70 or 75 thousand," he said. "Our mass vaccination centres can do it."

The spread of the variants has necessitated some quick changes, he said.

"We are at a pivotal point" in the pandemic, Dubé said. As Quebec moves away from vaccination based on age to prioritizing other factors, one big factor is “contagion risk."

People with serious medical conditions will still get first crack at doses, he made clear -- they are not being bumped down in line.

Under the previously published order of eligibility in Quebec, people under 60 with chronic conditions were next, after those 60 and over.

Public health continues to recommend that in the next phase, "we go to people with chronic diseases such as cancer," Dubé said. An expert medical panel has been advising on the needs of this group.

TWO PRIORITY GROUPS OF ROUGHLY HALF A MILLION EACH

Under the published list of 10 total priority levels, people with chronic illnesses are Group 8, and essential workers are included in Group 9.

The two groups Dubé spoke about on Tuesday, those with serious chronic illness and top-priority essential workers, are roughly the same size, he said.

Group 8, those "sick, for example, with cancer" or other serious illnesses, has about 500,000 people, he said. 

Group 9's group of "teachers, policemen, people that serve in [daycare]" adds up to about 400,000 people.

Regionally speaking, as of Friday, eligibility will also be evened out more across Quebec, with those 60 and above able to make appointments in all regions.

In one other quirk, those 55 and up will also have access to a dose as of this Thursday -- only if they get the AstraZeneca vaccine. The province has promised to adjust its booking website so that people can pick AstraZeneca or avoid it if they want.

When questioned about the decision to leave vaccine clinics underused, especially in Montreal, in the past two weeks, Dubé said public health officials have been calling those shots, not politicians.

"When we saw that we reached the saturation rate for people for people 60 [and] over" in Montreal, "I don't have the authorization to go to another category, as long as I don't have the okay from public health," Dubé said.

"We got those authorizations this afternoon."

He also said no doses were wasted, it was simply a matter of lack of demand for the available doses.

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