MONTREAL — Quebec will wait up to 90 days before giving a COVID-19 vaccine booster to people who have received a first shot, Health Minister Christian Dube said Thursday.
That delay goes far beyond the recommendations of vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, which propose intervals of 21 and 28 days respectively, and is more than double the 42-day maximum proposed by Canada's national vaccine advisory committee.
Dube told a news conference that the decision was made in order to vaccinate as many vulnerable people as possible and to reduce the pressure on the health system.
"In our context, this is the best strategy, because we have to contend with (having) very few vaccines, and we’re in a race against the clock," Dube said at a news conference.
Dube said the province had discussed the decision with both vaccine manufacturers and federal public health officials. He said the latter acknowledged that the 42-day recommended maximum can be extended depending on the disease's progression in a particular province.
He said the high rate of community transmission, hospitalizations and deaths in Quebec justified the change.
"In Quebec we don’t have the same situation as in New Brunswick or British Columbia," he said.
Richard Masse, a senior public health adviser, said the change would allow up to 500,000 seniors who are most at risk of complications — including those in private residences and those aged 80 and up — to receive their vaccine several weeks earlier than originally thought.
He said the justification to extend the interval was based on the "experience of working with many vaccines through time," which shows that vaccine immunity does not suddenly drop off within a month or two.
However, he said the province was carefully monitoring the efficacy of the shot and would immediately give second doses if it saw evidence of decreased immunity in certain groups, such as the elderly.
Both Masse and Dube said the province would work to shorten the interval between first and second doses once the province begins to receive larger quantities of vaccine.
Meanwhile, the province was reporting some regions of the province have few or no doses of COVID-19 vaccine remaining as the vaccination effort outpaces the speed of delivery.
Quebec says as of Thursday morning, the Gaspe region, Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Nord-du-Quebec and the James Bay Cree Nation territories are out or almost out of vaccine; the province expects new deliveries Friday or Saturday.
Four other regions had almost used up all their doses but received new supplies Tuesday.
The province reported 2,132 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 64 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including 15 that occurred in the previous 24 hours.
One death previously attributed to COVID-19 was removed from the total after it was determined to be unrelated. Quebec has reported a total of 236,827 infections and 8,878 deaths linked to the virus.
Jean Morin, a spokesman for the Gaspe region's health authority, said the vaccination campaign was going "exceedingly well" despite the fact nearly all the doses have been used.
Morin said there are logistical challenges to vaccinating people in the vast and thinly populated region, including having to transport people to clinics to receive their shots.
He says he expects the highest-priority groups in the region will be vaccinated by the end of January.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press