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Coronavirus: Older caregivers added to priority list as Quebec ramps up vaccination efforts

Click to play video 'Quebec caregivers over 70 who visit CHSLDs to get vaccine priority' Quebec caregivers over 70 who visit CHSLDs to get vaccine priority
WATCH ABOVE: Quebec is intensifying its COVID-19 vaccination efforts with 21 sites opening across the province. Inoculation is just for priority groups right now, starting with residents and employees working at CHSLDs. Some caregivers will also have access. But as Raquel Fletcher reports, many say the restrictions are too strict – Dec 21, 2020

Quebec is intensifying its COVID-19 vaccination efforts on Monday with 21 sites opening across the province in a bid to maximize inoculation for priority groups.

At the top of the list are residents of long-term care homes (CHSLD), as well as health-care workers in those facilities.

Read more: Medical experts say Quebec right to start vaccinations in long-term care centres

Personal caregivers of residents in nursing homes are also being given priority status, according to Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors and informal caregivers.

In a tweet on Monday, Blais said caregivers over the age of 70 are on an equal footing with health-care workers but some restrictions apply.

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In addition to being over 70 years old, caregivers must be known to the facility’s manager and provide care to a resident at least three days a week.

“There are many criteria to be able to get the vaccine now,” said Melanie Perroux, director general for the Regroupement des Aidants Naturels du Quebec (RANQ), an umbrella organization representing more than 21,000 caregivers throughout Quebec. The RANQ works towards improving the life conditions of caregivers.

Denis Robichaud, 64, is a caregiver to his 98-year-old mother who lives in a care home. He says her health deteriorated during the first wave of the pandemic due to months of isolation.

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“I tried to get her better,” Robichaud said, but then in October she contracted COVID-19.

Robichaud admits it got so bad, he hoped for an end to her suffering.

“I hoped she would die cause her life is very sad, very bad. It’s very difficult for her to have fun in the life,” he said. “But she survived.”

Read more: Long-term care homes in Quebec better protected during second COVID-19 wave: report

Robichaud said even though she’s better, she has difficulty walking and gets tired easily and it’s more difficult for her to think.

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He sees her at least once a week and sometimes two or three times but says he has to juggle his visits with work.

Robichaud wants the vaccine but he doesn’t qualify.

“I am very angry, because it’s nothing.” he said. “For me it’s not criteria, it’s a barricade to block caregivers to have access to our parents.”

Robichaud said an 85-year-old mother in care would have had to have her first child at 15 for them to qualify for priority vaccination.

Perroux said only 19 per cent of the RANQ’s members are over the age of 65, meaning only a small percentage of caregivers will make the cut in terms of the priority list.

Furthermore, Perroux said the the number of doses of the vaccine are also limited.

“What we know from the ministry is that there is only a few caregivers that will be vaccinated during this time because there is not enough dose of vaccine so far,” she said.

Click to play video 'Ombudsman claims Quebec failed pandemic planning in CHSLDs during first wave' Ombudsman claims Quebec failed pandemic planning in CHSLDs during first wave
Ombudsman claims Quebec failed pandemic planning in CHSLDs during first wave – Dec 10, 2020

While Perroux admits it could have been easier for caregivers to be vaccinated at the same time as other CHSLD staff, she understands it wasn’t a political decision.

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“It’s a committee of scientists who are counting the number of vaccines that are available and are deciding which kind of scenario they should prioritize,” she said.

She hopes that when more doses do become available, the criteria will expand to include more caregivers.

Perroux said many caregivers don’t fear getting ill so much as spreading the virus not only in care homes but also bringing it back into the community.

Being vaccinated would allow caregivers some return to normalcy and much needed respite, she said.

When the province first unveiled its vaccination plan, health officials said the main objective in drawing up a list of priority groups was “the prevention of serious illness and death.”

Five of the 21 sites are located in Montreal and include CHSLD Saint-Henri, Maimonides, CHSLD Jeanne Le Ber, CHSLD Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci and Ste. Anne’s Hospital. The remaining sites are spread out across 14 regions in Quebec. 

Read more: Quebec reports 2,146 new cases of COVID-19 and 21 deaths linked to virus

The rollout comes as Quebec health officials reported more than 2,000 daily cases of the coronavirus for three consecutive days, bringing the total caseload since the start of the pandemic to 179,093.

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Authorities said Monday that 115 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Sunday, for a total of 4,831 since the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was first administered in the province on Monday of last week.

The Quebec government says it plans to vaccinate 650,000 people by April 1, 2021, depending on the number of vaccine doses it receives.

— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher