Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign is being expanded to include people with chronic conditions as well as people with mental and physical disabilities and their caregivers, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Thursday.
It’s the last priority phase before the campaign moves to the general public, which will likely be at the end of May, and it comes months after the groups began asking the government to prioritize them.
Dubé made the announcement at a news conference alongside public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda and the director of Quebec’s vaccination campaign, Daniel Paré.
“We will open many appointments over the next few weeks to make sure all people that we announced today … will be able to get an appointment,” Dubé said.
Vaccines were recently made available to people with chronic illnesses who regularly visit hospitals because of their conditions. As of Friday, eligibility will extend to anyone with a chronic illness under the age of 60. People with physical and intellectual disabilities will be eligible as of Wednesday.
The province put together a list of people included in this next phase of the campaign — ranging from those undergoing cancer treatment to those with mobility issues — but is not requiring them to bring proof of their conditions to appointments.
“The role of our vaccinators, of our evaluators, is not to be police officers,” Dubé said. “We are relying on the good faith of not only those who have chronic illnesses, but we are also relying on Quebecers who are not part of these priority groups to wait a bit longer.”
This is in contrast to essential workers, who became eligible for their vaccines at the beginning of April and had to carry proof of employment to get vaccinated.
“I get a little reactive when I speak of the chronically ill and of people with disabilities,” Dubé said. “I think these people already have a lot to do with the life they have, I think they have been waiting for a very long time to be vaccinated.”
Arruda said he isn’t worried about people pretending to have a condition to get vaccinated since the campaign will soon move to the general public.
“If there are a few exceptions then there will be exceptions … but you’re not going to wait six months or a year,” he said. “It’s a question of weeks.”
Dubé said the groups and their caregivers represent 1 million Quebecers, including those with chronic conditions who became eligible last week. The province was able to prioritize these groups because of increased vaccine deliveries over the next few weeks.
“The regularity that we have seen with the arrival of Pfizer vaccines — they’re coming in every week, and now that we know that we’ll be getting additional vaccines, we were able to make this decision,” Dubé said.
Paré added that the province will make an announcement next week about mass vaccination efforts that aim to reach more people.
“We are continuing to prepare ourselves to vaccinate all Quebecers to attain our objective of June 24,” he said.
The announcement will include details for the first drive-through vaccination site that will operate on a drop-in basis.
“(That) will be a new way to reach certain groups without appointments,” Paré said.
Quebec beat its single-day vaccination record on Wednesday, with 84,837 doses administered, more than 30,000 of which were the AstraZeneca shot.
“We could only imagine that we could get this kind of response from Quebecers,” Dubé said. “It was truly a show of solidarity.”
The minimum age limit for the AstraZeneca vaccine was dropped from 55 to 45 this week, sending thousands of Quebecers to walk-in sites on Wednesday morning.
Quebec has administered a total of nearly 2.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since the campaign began in December.