Quebec to stretch delay for second vaccine doses to four months, up from three

Quebec announced Wednesday it will now stretch the delay before its residents’ second vaccine doses to four months, up from three.

The province’s health minister, Christian Dubé, said he learned earlier that day that the national advisory panel on immunization has signed off on a four-month delay, two days after British Columbia announced it would go with that longer interval.

Quebec, the first province to go with a long second-dose delay, quickly followed suit, adding an extra month onto its previous vaccine schedule. 

Some other provinces did the same Wednesday: Manitoba and Newfoundland both announced they would go with four months. Ontario, Alberta and many others had said earlier they were waiting to hear what the national panel said.

Dubé said that in Quebec, the change will allow a quarter-million people in their early 60s to get a first dose soon.

“What we'll be doing now… it is going to give us 250,000 more people who will be able to be vaccinated. And that 250,000 people, that is within the 60 to 65 age bracket—it's major,” he said.

According to the manufacturer's instructions, based on clinical trial data, the Pfizer vaccine's second dose is meant to be given 21 days after the first, and the Moderna 28 days after the first.

But Quebec, along with some other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, decided in January to postpone those second doses in order to give as many people as possible their first doses.

There's no data from clinical trials proving how well the vaccines work with the delay, but various government experts have concluded that, given the extenuating circumstances, it's a safer to bet to give more people a less certain level of protection than to give a smaller group the two doses on schedule.

Canada's national immunization panel, known as NACI, said Wednesday that they've now been able to observe disease levels in the first few months of the delay and that “the first two months of real world effectiveness are showing sustained high levels of protection" from the first dose alone.

ABOUT 400 QUEBECERS TO GET SECOND DOSES BY 90 DAYS

Only a very small group of Quebecers will get their second doses by the 90-day deadline previously set by the province: those in the very first two long-term care homes to get vaccinated, in mid-December.

The group consists of about 400 people living at the Maimonides and St-Antoine care homes in Montreal and Quebec City, respectively.

Those 400 or so Quebecers only keep their second-dose appointments because they’d already been scheduled, said Dubé.

“They will get the second dose because the appointments had already been planned on for the beginning of next week,” he said. “Everybody else [doesn’t] need to call—we will call them back and we will adjust the appointments.”

The 90-day deadline for the Quebecers who were first vaccinated is coming up soon. It’s March 14 for those who got first doses on the very first day COVID vaccines arrived in Quebec.

Joyce Shanks, who leads a family advocacy group for Maimonides, said her father’s second-dose appointment was made just this Monday, and will get him in about four days before the deadline.

LEGAULT SAYS QUEBEC'S 'CORRECT' DECISION IS VINDICATED

Quebec has faced significant criticism for its early decision to delay second doses, including from families with loved ones at Maimonides, several of which threatened to sue the province, saying they hadn’t consented to an untested use of the vaccine.

And while NACI is supporting the four-month delay, many experts continue to oppose the idea of going off-label on the vaccine schedules, saying it’s not known if they’ll be as effective that way. 

However, Quebec Premier François Legault took the opportunity Wednesday to say this week's news vindicates the province's decision.

"You'll recall that we had a lot of people criticizing because we chose to delay the second dose," he said.

"We were a little bit alone, thinking that, but now, British Columbia and Canada are now saying not only can we wait three months but we can even wait four months."

Aside from deciding to follow the same timeline, he said, "what that means is, bravo to public health -- the decision that they made was the correct one to take. And now the others are taking Quebec as an example." 

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