MONTREAL — Quebec will deploy sound trucks in hard-hit Montreal neighbourhoods to announce the presence of mobile clinics offering Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, Health Minister Christian Dube said Friday.
There will be more than 20,000 doses of that vaccine available with or without appointments over the weekend, he said on Twitter.
Dube said sound trucks will blast messages in multiple languages along residential streets in western Montreal and in the city's diverse Cote-des-Neiges borough, adding that the AstraZeneca vaccine is for those 55 and over.
"We are waiting for a decision from public health to extend the age for which (AstraZeneca) can be administered," the minister said.
Dube said since the government lowered the eligible age for the AstraZeneca vaccine to 55, about 160,000 more people have been vaccinated, 22,000 of them in Montreal.
But data provided by the Health Department suggests many eligible Quebecers haven't taken up the offer.
"In Quebec, more than 635,000 people aged 55 to 79 have still not been vaccinated and have not made an appointment to get the vaccine," the department said in an email. Quebec has received 411,200 doses of AstraZeneca and 267,000 remain unused.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is available to Quebecers between the ages of 55 and 79 at walk-in clinics and by appointment across the province. Quebec suspended use of that vaccine in those younger than 55 over concerns about rare blood clots in a small number of recipients.
While Montreal was the hardest-hit region in Quebec during the first and second wave of the pandemic, the number of new, daily cases in the city has remained relatively stable since late February.
Dr. Sarah-Amelie Mercure, the associate medical chief for infection and disease control at Montreal's public health authority, said that while officials have seen a slight increase in the number of new cases, the city is not reporting the explosive growth in infections that's been seen in other parts of the province.
Mercure said there are a number of factors limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Montreal, including relatively strict health orders that limit contacts and a more aggressive, targeted approach to controlling the spread of variants.
Public health has begun conducting more exhaustive contact-tracing investigations, she said in an interview Friday. "We're really looking for the source. When we don't find the source, we look even further."
Going further, she said, involves looking in places that have not reported cases for people who may have come into contact with an infected individual, adding that officials may also ask "contacts of contacts" to isolate.
Vaccination is also playing a role in some areas, such as residences for elderly people, but not enough people have been vaccinated for it to be having a large impact on transmission in the broader community, Mercure said.
But, she said, it's not impossible that in parts of the city, acquired immunity among people who have recovered from the virus is slowing transmission.
Montreal's "relatively enviable" situation remains fragile, Mercure said, adding that a couple superspreader events — like the one at a Quebec City gym linked to hundreds of cases — could change that rapidly.
Benoit Masse, a public health professor at Universite de Montreal, said part of the reason Montreal is not being affected as much as elsewhere is due to the way viruses are transmitted in a population.
"The virus infects the most susceptible and the epidemic dies out when there are no more susceptible people to infect," he wrote in an email Friday, comparing the virus to a forest fire that moves to a new area once all the trees in one place are burned.
"Since reinfections are very rare, an infected person who recovers is no longer likely to be reinfected."
Since the start of the pandemic, Montreal has reported a total of around 6,000 confirmed cases for every 100,000 people, Masse wrote, adding that the real number of cases is likely three to five times higher.
Elsewhere in Quebec, he said, there has been an average of around 3,500 reported cases per 100,000 people, leaving more opportunities for the virus to spread.
Meanwhile, Quebec set a pair of records for COVID-19 injections, inoculating 74,927 people on Thursday — the highest single-day number of Quebecers vaccinated since the campaign started. That daily total included 15,522 doses administered in pharmacies, also a record.
The seven-day average for shots is 66,000 per day, well above what had been planned for April, Dube said Friday. Health officials said Quebec has vaccinated 26 per cent of the population with at least one dose.
The pace of the vaccine rollout bodes well for the province's plan to dole out 5.3 million doses — one for every adult — by the Fete nationale holiday on June 24, Dube said.
Quebec reported 1,527 new COVID-19 cases Friday and seven more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Hospitalizations were up by three patients, to 664, and eight more people were in intensive care, for a total of 167.
Montreal reported 355 cases, followed by the Quebec City area with 294 and Chaudiere-Appalaches, south of the capital region, with 204.
Quebec has reported 334,071 COVID-19 infections and 10,785 deaths linked to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. There are 13,941 active reported cases in the province.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.
Jacob Serebrin and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press