MONTREAL — Health experts in Quebec are criticizing the provincial government for what they say is a confusing vaccine rollout for people with chronic conditions.
Holly Witteman, a professor at Universite Laval's faculty of medicine, said Wednesday the appointment-booking process for people at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19 is "completely opaque." Adding to the confusion, she said, is mixed messaging from the province.
"It just demonstrates a lack of caring and a lack of respect for people who have been living at risk for over a year now," she said in an interview.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Christian Dube said people with certain serious medical conditions would be able to make vaccine appointments online. Later that day, the province's Health Department issued a news release saying those people who are not hospitalized would be contacted by their medical providers to be vaccinated.
In Montreal, where people with chronic medical conditions have been eligible to get vaccinated since Monday, one major hospital network said it's still developing a plan.
Gilda Salomone, a spokesperson for the McGill University Health Centre, said Wednesday that the health-care facility will post information about vaccination online, once it's ready.
"We are developing the modalities to implement vaccination of people under 60 years of age who have a chronic disease at all our sites," Salomone wrote in an email.
Dr. Don Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre, said the vaccine rollout is still a work in progress and it "could have benefited from better planning."
Vinh, who studies genetic diseases and immunology, said people being treated for cancer and those who have received organ transplants are at higher risk for COVID-19 because their immune systems are weaker.
Cancer treatments and some cancers weaken the immune system, he said, adding that transplant patients have to take medicine to suppress their immune system in order to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ.
Vinh said people with weakened immune systems should be prioritized for the second dose of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines.
"The effectiveness of these vaccines in people with a weakened immune system does not seem to be as strong as if you are otherwise healthy," he said.
Meanwhile, officials in the western Quebec region of Outaouais said that despite a lockdown that has been in place for two weeks, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the region continues to rise.
"Despite the emergency public health measures put in place on April 1, the situation is not under control yet," said Dr. Brigitte Pinard, the interim public health director in the region.
Non-essential business and schools are closed in the region and an 8 p.m. curfew is in place, but she said stricter measures may be needed.
France Dumont, the deputy head of the regional health authority, said around 150 surgeries a week are being postponed and only emergency surgeries are being done.
Quebec reported 1,559 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and seven more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by 17, to 660, and 152 people were in intensive care, a rise of two. Quebec has 13,660 active reported cases.
The province says it administered 68,192 COVID-19 vaccine doses on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press