350 Montreal pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March: health minister

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MONTREAL — The Quebec government has reached a deal with pharmacies that will allow them to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March, Health Minister Christian Dube said Tuesday.

Dube told a news conference that some 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area will start taking appointments for vaccinations by March 15.

COVID-19 vaccinations are open to Quebecers aged 85 and older in outlying regions, while they are open to people as young as 70 in the Montreal area.

Dube said the Montreal region is being prioritized in part because of the presence of more contagious variants, such as the B.1.1.7 mutation that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

"We're afraid," Dube said. "We’re afraid the Montreal region is the calm before the storm."

Quebec reported 588 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and eight more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Hospitalizations rose by 16 to 628, and 121 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

Dube said that while the general COVID-19 curve is dropping, cases of the U.K. variant are rising quickly. The province has confirmed 137 cases of variants, most of which have been identified in Montreal and involve the U.K. mutation. He said there are also 1,095 presumptive variant cases across Quebec.

The province began vaccinating older members of the general public at mass vaccine centres on Monday, and administered 16,458 doses over the course of the day. Dube said the first day was a success despite some small issues, including long lineups at some sites.

He said adjustments will be made in the coming days, and also asked people not to show up too early for their appointments in order to avoid a long wait. The minister said mass vaccination would be expanded in other regions as quickly as possible.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

The Canadian Press