COVID-19 indicators up in Quebec, too early to declare new wave: public health

QUEBEC — New COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations linked to the disease are on the rise in Quebec, prompting the province to make the influenza vaccine available earlier than usual to protect vulnerable people against both viruses.

Starting Oct. 5, seniors and other at-risk residents can get the flu vaccine for free at clinics and pharmacies and can obtain a shot at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccination, public health director Dr. Luc Boileau told reporters in Quebec City.

"Influenza, like many other viruses, is not something we should take lightly," Boileau said. "There are many people who have had a rough case of the flu and who have suffered, and every year, many of them die. It's a serious illness."

But despite the rise in COVID-19 indicators, Boileau said it's too early to declare that Quebec has entered a new wave. And on a positive note, he said, the return to school has triggered "very weak" COVID-19 transmission. Fewer than 6,000 infections have so far been reported in schools, he added.

Meanwhile, a provincial health research institute is projecting that new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations will continue to rise over the next two weeks.

The Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux said that from Sept. 17-23, COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by six per cent compared with the prior week. It projected that within two weeks, the number of daily new COVID-19 hospitalizations will rise to 125. Health officials on Thursday reported 44 additional COVID-19 hospitalizations, for a total of 1,663.

Since the government launched its latest provincewide COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Aug. 15, it has administered 800,000 doses to Quebecers aged 18 and older, officials said. Sixty-nine per cent of people living in long-term care homes have received a booster shot in the last five months, but that number drops to 16 per cent for people aged between 40 and 59 and seven per cent for people aged between 18 and 39.

Boileau said he's not concerned that vaccination rates aren't higher. Younger people, he said, don't feel the need to get vaccinated or have recently had COVID-19, adding that the risks of serious complications for them is very low. Older people, he said, especially the most vulnerable, are getting protected.

"We see that those people who are at risk are getting vaccinated, but yes, we would like to see those numbers higher," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.

The Canadian Press