Vaccines for All – Quebec’s approach…


I live in Canada – Quebec – and with the travel restrictions in place – can’t ‘travel’ to improve my odds of getting a vaccine. I’m stuck here – and I’m stuck with how Quebec has decided this will be getting done.

So – After a great deal of excitement and political uproar – our Prime Minister – Justin Trudeau – announced that Canada has purchased tons of Vaccines. That’s the good news. The bad news – none of these are made in Canada – so getting the vaccines here – that’s the rub.

The European Union has decided to require all the Vaccine Manufacturers to fulfill all orders for European Countries before they fill orders for other countries (ie: Canada). This sounds like really BAD news – but there’s a good news component. The good news is that the European Countries haven’t actually gotten around to ORDERING large quantities of the Vaccines yet – so after a bit of a slow start – Vaccines have been rolling into Canada at a steadily increasing rate.

And the policy here in Quebec at least has been – get those vaccines into arms as soon as we can – using our 10 step priority list.

First up – homeless, folks in the far north, and staff and guests in old-age homes. These are the groups that have the most limited access to health care and/or died in alarming numbers in the spring. At this point – March 12 – apx 80% of all folks in old-age home have gotten at least one shot.

As the numbers of folks in that priority group dwindled, the government announced that the next priority group – folks over 80 – could make reservations for getting shots. Just one shot only Vasili.. Yes I know, not the recommended strategy – but here in Quebec the goal is to get as many folks vaccinate with at least one shot as possible. At first folks were given return dates in 3 months – now that’s been extended to 4 months.

The program started – but got stalled because the vaccine supplied dried up in February as we all know. But as soon as more vaccine doses started arriving in Canada – they were distributed thru the provinces and the priority list because the really critical thing.

My parents in law – both over 85 – were among the first ‘normally active’ folks to get appointments – but no sooner did they start making appointments – then the age range dropped from 80 to 75.

The first day of general vaccines was filled with scary news – long lines of folks waiting, mobility challenged senior having to get around with no help and no wheelchairs, concerns about speed – you name it, the media covered it.

But by day 2 – with the government stressing that folks arrive no more than 10 minutes before their appointment (folks were arriving hours ahead – which created those long lines), and repeating over and over that everyone should get vaccinated – the issues disappeared.

Plus as more vaccines became available, more vaccination centres opened and the staff got trained. Result – a smoother flowing system and rapid progress thru the priority list.

A few days after 80 year olds got started, it was the turn of the 75+ crowd, and now, just 2 weeks after we started this process, the age range has dropped to 70 – and I was able to make a reservation.

During the first vaccine period from Feb 1 – March 1 – covering Priorities 1 – 5 (Seniors over 80 and health care workers) – Apx 780,000 folks were vaccinated. Now with the age range at 70 – the number eligible to get vaccinated jumped up – apparently there are almost as many folks between the ages of 70 and 75 as there are 75+.

As soon as it was possible for me to make a reservation – Both my husband and I were on the Clic-Sante website (French for Click-health) and were thrilled – thrilled I tell you – that it was well designed and easy to use – even in English!

You entered your postal code – and what you wanted (first choice – get a vaccine) – and a list of places in ascending distance from your home appeared. You could pick a site – and see what appointments were available.

The 2 places closest to our home had no available appointments till the end of March – but the third place – about a 20 minute drive – had tons of availability. So we signed up – and our date was March 11. 9:30 and 9:40 in the morning.

Between signing up and March 11th, the news was full of conflicting reports on the different vaccines – with the governments of Canada and Quebec clearly stating – no vaccine shopping! You get what we have in the place that you go! End of story.

And no cheating! If your health card shows a different year of birth from that of the ‘allowed’ age group – you will be turned away. So much for folks trying to cheat that way. And a worker told me that in another case- three ladies showed up with exactly the same name… and different birth dates. That slowed up the works of course.

But the rules are the rules – and there’s no cheating, no skipping the lines, no ‘fast track for the wealthy’ – just make a reservation – arrive and get your shot!

March 11th dawns – and we get ourselves organized. We wear Short sleeve shirts, grab our health cards, and are carrying a list of medicines and/or vitamins in case we get asked. We drive to our ‘designated’ vaccine center- a sports arena in LaSalle – park in one of the many free parking spots, and put on our masks.

We basically at the front door of the arena – and it’s very obvious where to walk in. At the door are 2 security guards who check that we are wearing masks, ask us to sanitize our hands and ask if we have appointments. When we say yes, we are welcomed into the vestibule of the arena entrance. There another set of security guards ask us to sanitize our hands – and remove our masks. We must wear the paper surgical masks provided by the Vaccine Center.

We walk thru that entrance and in front of us is another security person who again makes us us sanitizer and asks if we have mobility issues. If we do, we’d be sent to a Vaccine center on that level – no stairs. But since we don’t have mobility problems, we go to the left and head thru another set of doors into the area above the arena’s Hockey Rink.

But this is a transformed Hockey Rink! No ice of course. Instead they have taken the entire length of the rink and turned it into a series of stations.. We are instructed to walk the length of the rink at the upper level (above the seats) to yet another security person. Again we are asked to sanitize (oh are my hands CLEAN) and walk down a flight of stairs to the arena floor. We’ve reached Station 1. Another security person watches us carefully. If we had touched our faces, our masked, or the banister – we’d have to sanitize again. Thank goodness we didn’t do any of that.

Now – just 5 minutes after entering the arena – we are directed to Station 2 – Check-in.

Our appointment is verified, our health cards placed on a sliding white board so that the gal who is doing the data entry can see them but doesn’t touch them. She types in our Health Card numbers, verifies that we are who we say we are, and gives us our next appointment – in 4 months. Quebec is telling folks that the first shot, given broadly, will provide everyone with the best results. We shall see. A post-it note on the plexiglass that separates us tells us that we’ll be getting the Pfizer vaccine today.

As we leave, another worker comes over to sanitize the chairs we were just sitting in. Wow – they are taking this very seriously.

Now to Station 3 – Cautions and warnings. And another Sanitizing station. In English, the gal at this desks explains the side effects of the vaccine, ensures that we agree that we recognize that there are some dangers, makes us verbally agree to return to get the 2nd dose, and hands us – again in English – a double sided sheet of information about Covid and the vaccine we will be getting. This sheet also gives the % of folks getting the various side-effects – from over 50% having sore arms to under 1% having serious issues.

Station 4 – wait for a Vaccine station. And yes – another sanitizing station! That takes seconds – there are very few folks here that don’t work here! And 6 set-up stations for giving vaccines. I ask one of the folks about that – and they say it’s quiet but extremely steady – they will vaccinate over 700 people today.

Station 5 – Get the Vaccine. I sit down as instructed, the nurse giving the shot asks if I have allergies (I’ve been asked this already at Station 2 – but I guess it’s a double check), then asks which arm I’d prefer. Left works for me. I look away – she gives me the shot – then hands me a piece of paper with my name on it – and a sticker giving the bar code of the vial she used on me.

She puts a sticker on my hand giving me my 15 minutes of waiting time, hands me a card that says ‘dirty chair’ in French and English, and directs to a ‘waiting’ area with plexiglass barriers between the chairs. I’m told to leave the card on my seat when I get up – so it can be sanitized. There’s a first aid station set up near by (in case of severe reactions I suppose). We wait our 15 minutes, then get up to leave. Yet another security person checks that the time on our wrist sticker matches the current time – and then thanks us for coming – wishing us a great day.

We leave up a staircase – and out to the parking lot.

Vaccine done – in under 30 minutes.

Wow – I’m impressed with both the organization and the speed.

Congrats to Quebec for getting this organized – in both official languages. You clearly rock. Even if we must wait 4 months for our next shot.