Quebec is lowering the minimum age requirement to register for the AstraZeneca brand of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Quebec Premier François Legault announced the measure Tuesday, on the heels of other provinces doing the same.
Under the plan, any Quebecer who is 45 and older can book their first AstraZeneca dose as of Wednesday morning. Prior to the change, only people older than 55 were able to get that vaccine at walk-in clinics.
Quebec had temporarily hit pause on administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone younger than that amid guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) about a possible link between the shot and rare blood clots.
Legault attempted to qualm any fears people might have.
“I invite you to take this very safe and efficient vaccine,” he said. “The vaccine is the way to regain our freedom, but that will only happen when a majority of Quebecers are vaccinated.”
Quebec’s top doctor reiterated that the risk of getting blod clots after contracting COVID-19 was higher than the risk associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
As to why the age of eligibility wasn’t lowered to 40, as in Ontario, Dr. Horacio Arruda said the decision was based on recommendations by immunization experts.
“They are taking into account the epidemiology and the incidence rate which is going on here, in Québec,” he said, adding that could change.
“Balancing the risks, benefits of the vaccine against the possibility of having clots, the age, and in relation also with hospitalizations … if our epidemiology gets worse, we could lower the age.”
In a report released on Tuesday afternoon, Quebec’s immunization committee said that for all age groups in the province, the benefits of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, but it said the benefits for people over 45 are far higher than for younger people.
The committee weighed the number of hospitalizations prevented for every 100,000 people given the AstraZeneca vaccine with the expected number of patients who would get blood clots. It found that the number of hospitalizations prevented would be higher for all adults. But the committee found that the number of ICU admissions prevented would only be significantly higher for people over 45.
Among people 45 to 54, the number of ICU admissions prevented would be at least three times as high as the number of blood clots expected, and at least six times as high among people age 55 to 59.
Health authorities had spent the weekend actively encouraging people who are eligible for inoculation to get their first shot. In Montreal, soundtrucks made the rounds in areas hard hit by the pandemic in order to get the message out.
Vaccinations are currently underway for the following groups:
- Health and social service workers that have had direct contact with patients as part of their duties such as, but not limited to, dental clinics, optometry offices, pyschology clinics, physiotherapy clinics and outreach workers mental health, homelessness and drug abuse issues;
- Essential workers in settings deemed at high risk of outbreaks, such as teachers, childcare workers, temporary foreign farm workers and slaughterhouse workers;
- Residents under 60 years deemed at high risk of complications from COVID-19;
- Starting Wednesday, the AstraZeneca vaccine for those aged 45 and over;
There has bee much confusion surrounding vaccination for the chronically ill at high-risk of complications from COVID-19, in terms of who qualifies.
On Monday, the health ministry said that anyone eligible because of their chronic illness will receive a call from their doctor, while everyone else will have to be patient and wait until the province receives more vaccines.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province expects to receive more doses on May 3, which will allow to increase the number of people who get a shot.
Dubé said he would provide more details on Thursday on the next phase of the vaccine rollout pertaining to people with disabilities and their caregivers, as well as clarify eligibility requirements for the chronically ill.
Since late December, Quebec has administered more than 2.4 million doses of the vaccine — the majority of which have been first shots.
The province has vowed to give a first jab to any adult who wants one by June 24.
Emergency measures extended in COVID-19 hot spots
Meanwhile, the premier said that tough measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus in COVID-19 hot spots appear to be working.
He warned, however, that what is happening in Ontario is a reminder that the situation remains very fragile and the health-care system is nearing capacity in various regions.
Ontario is under a provincewide stay-at-home order until mid-May. Premier Doug Ford called on other provinces to send health-care workers and vaccines to help as the province deals with an explosion of infections.
“We’re not immune to this in Quebec,” Legault said. “We have to stay very careful.”
Legault said the situation remains worrisome in three regions including the Capitale-Nationale, Chaudières-Appalaches and the Outaouais.
What has been observed in the Quebec City area is that the rise in cases has been followed by a rise in hospitalizations and in fatalities.
In the Beauce, COVID-19 patients have had to be transferred from the regional hospital to Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, while in the Outaouais patients are being relocated to hospitals in the Laurentians.
“The number of new cases is stabilizing but hospitalizations are increasing,” Legault said. “This is why I am announcing the special emergency measures will continue until May 3 in these three regions.”
Schools and non-essential businesses have been closed since the beginning of April following an explosion of cases linked to more virulent novel coronavirus variants.
Legault said the first thing to reopen once the situation is under control, will be elementary schools.
Legault expressed surprise that the situation remained stable in Montreal and Laval.
“We’re still resisting better than expected but the situation is very fragile and so we must maintain the restrictions,” he said.
That includes the overnight curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., that has led to numerous protests in recent weeks.
— With files from The Canadian Press’ Jacob Serebrin