Authorities were ready to start inoculating Montrealers over the age of 55 last week against COVID-19, but were not given the permission by the government to do so as the rest of the province was behind in the vaccine schedule and needed to catch up, the Montreal Gazette has learned.
As a result of this policy decision, 5,000 vaccination appointments went unfilled in Montreal over the Easter weekend.
“There are a lot of unused but not wasted doses because we basically ran through the age groups that they permitted us to vaccinate,” a high-ranking source said.
“We vaccinated 77 per cent of the people who could have been vaccinated.”
The source, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, suggested Quebec was “waiting for the regions to catch up.”
Had the government lowered the age requirement to 55 in Montreal last week, the eligibility gap between the city and the rest of the province would have been 10 years, with Quebecers in the regions only above the age of 65 qualifying for the vaccine. On Tuesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that everyone in Quebec over the age of 60 would be able to get the shot by the end of the week.
To bridge the vaccination gap between Montreal and the regions, authorities have decided to make available as of Thursday the AstraZeneca vaccine to everyone in the province over the age of 55, hoping that many Montrealers in this demographic will get the shots.
Dubé hinted that appointments for the AstraZeneca dose might not even be necessary. Quebec and the other provinces have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in those under the age of 55 amid concerns of a very small risk of bleeding disorders and blood clots in the brain.
“What they hope to accomplish with the AstraZeneca shots is that people in Montreal who are over 55 will be able to get vaccinated,” the source said.
Faced with a limited supply of vaccines, the government last month started administering far more doses in Montreal than the rest of Quebec, fearing the city would be hit first with a third wave in the pandemic. But that decision by Dubé created much resentment in the regions, another source told the Gazette.
As of Tuesday, 23.84 per cent of Montreal’s population had received at least one dose, compared with a rate of 17.66 per cent in the Capitale-Nationale and 14.97 per cent in the Outaouais.
Those regions are now reporting far higher rates per capita than Montreal of the more transmissible variants, suggesting that the vaccination blitz in the metropolis in the last few weeks may have blunted the impact of the third wave in the city. On Tuesday, Premier François Legault said the situation in Montreal is much better than in some regions.
Daniel Paré, head of Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccination program, told radio host Paul Arcand on Monday that “we were really hoping that people would show up for appointments” in Montreal over the weekend.