Quebec will provide a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to residents living in long-term care homes and private seniors residences this fall.
Health Minister Christian Dubé announced the decision Tuesday during an update on the province’s immunization campaign.
“We must do something,” he said, referring to a growing number of infections and outbreaks in living environments for the elderly.
Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have also made third doses available to people in congregate care settings, while Manitoba is offering third doses to residents of long-term care facilities in First Nations communities.
Dubé said the goal is to protect vulnerable Quebecers. The third shot will be given starting at the end of October, which marks about six months since the second dose was administered in those facilities.
In Quebec, a third dose of the vaccine was already available to people who are severely immunocompromised. When asked if other seniors will be eligible, Dubé said there are no current plans to do so but that could change if the pandemic evolves.
“We will adjust as needed,” he said.
Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said that older people who live at home tend to be in better health and have fewer contacts than those who live in long-term care.
The move comes as the province’s health department noted there are 40 active novel coronavirus cases in seniors residences, where six new infections were reported Tuesday. There are 47 active cases in long-term care centres, a rise of one from the previous day.
The government has also tightened the mask mandate in seniors residences in areas where COVID-19 transmission is on the rise, including Montreal.
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As of this week, residents must wear masks when they are in common areas, when they are on the move in the facility, and when they use the elevator.
The first wave of the pandemic tore through Quebec’s long-term care homes, where more than 3,800 residents died over the course of spring 2020. The province’s ombudsman has described it as the blind spot in preparing for the COVID-19 health crisis.
‘I just want us to stay prudent’
Quebec’s health minister asked the population to remain vigilant and to keep respecting health measures.
On Tuesday, the province reported its lowest daily case count since August but pandemic-related hospitalizations topped 300.
“I just want us to stay prudent with the plateau (of cases) we have right now,” Dubé said.
In its latest update, the province’s public health institute says 89.3 per cent of residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 85.2 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.
While Dubé praised high vaccination rates among Quebecers, he said the province is still dealing with the more contagious Delta variant.
“It’s too early to declare victory over the virus,” he said.
Deadline looms for health workers
The government has also asked health-care administrators to provide a list of unvaccinated workers by October, according to Dubé.
He said that around 7,000 health-care workers across the province who are in regular contact with patients are still not fully vaccinated ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline. They risk suspension without pay.
“It’s never too late to change your mind,” Dubé said. “So, let’s go.”
The health minister has stood firm on the mandate. Earlier this month, Dubé said he is confident managers in the health network will be able to come up with a contingency plan and reorganize services in the event many staff remain unvaccinated and are unable to work
— with files from The Canadian Press
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