A resident at a long-term care home in the province’s capital has become the first Quebecer to receive a novel coronavirus vaccine as the long-awaited vaccination campaign gets underway in Canada.
Quebec Premier François Legault says Gisèle Lévesque received the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Saint-Antoine facility in Quebec City on Monday.
“We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” he wrote on social media. “Let us keep hope.”
The first administered dose in the province comes as shipments arrived for the first part of the hotly anticipated rollout plan in two long-term care homes. They arrived in Montreal late Sunday.
Under the plan, the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal is the other facility to receive the first vaccines in Quebec after it was approved last week by Health Canada.
The centre has been ravaged by the virus in recent weeks. In late November, 20 residents were transferred to Montreal hospitals after the virus took hold and the health authority closed a hot zone to contain the spread.
Gloria Lallouz, 78, was the first resident at Maimonides and the first person in Montreal to be vaccinated. She said the stakes couldn’t be higher and that it gives her the opportunity to see her family and friends after a long year.
“I feel fabulous,” she told a crowd of reporters. “I feel the same as when I got up this morning.”
A few hundred residents of Maimonides have given their consent to be vaccinated, according to the local health authority. It expects to receive 1,950 initial doses, which will first go to Maimonides residents and staff and then to health-care workers in other long-term care homes in Montreal.
“The important thing is not to lose any doses and to take into consideration the fact that we can’t move the vaccine,” said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of the regional health authority for west-central Montreal. “We won’t lose any doses.”
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé and Dr. Richard Massé, senior adviser to the province’s public health director, were on hand at Maimonides to mark the historic moment.
“It’s a big, historic day for Quebec,” Dubé said, likening the ongoing health crisis to a marathon.
Health officials are hoping the vaccine will help protect the most vulnerable people in the province and bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
“I think we can take this good news with us and carry it with us over the next few weeks,” Dubé said.
Quebec is expected to be able to vaccinate around 50,000 people by Jan. 4, 2021, he added.
Hajdu also applauded the work and the rollout of the vaccine, but said that there are “difficult times” ahead. It’s a strong tool, she added, but she is worried Canadians think the pandemic is nearly over.
“We must continue our efforts to fight COVID-19,” she said, adding the country has to protect its families and communities.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante welcomed the arrival of the first vaccine in Montreal, but she also called on the public to continue abiding by public health rules.
“The start of vaccinations is only a first step toward getting back to normal,” she said on Twitter.
The arrival of the first doses and the beginning of the vaccination plan comes as Quebec looks to impose new restrictions this week to slow the spread of the virus.
Legault admitted in an interview that he will announce tightened measures Tuesday in a bid to bring down rising cases, deaths and hospitalizations. There are 1,620 new infections and 25 additional deaths recorded Monday.
Quebec remains the province with the highest caseload at 165,535 and death count in the country at 7,533.
— With files from Global News’ Phil Carpenter and The Canadian Press