Quebec to fully vaccinate youth aged 12 to 17 by September: health minister

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MONTREAL — Quebecers 12 to 17 years old will be offered a first dose of COVID-19 by the end of June and will be fully vaccinated by the time they return to school in September, the province's health minister said Thursday.

Christian Dubé said he’s waiting for formal guidelines from Quebec’s immunization committee before announcing details of the plan, but it will likely include vaccinating teens at their schools.

''We’re so pleased with this news because it’s good for the people that will be vaccinated, and good for the population in general," he told reporters in Quebec City. "We’re back to school in September, and this is behind us.''

Daniel Paré, head of the province's vaccine effort, said teens would be vaccinated in a "hybrid" model that will likely include both schools and vaccination centres, depending on the region. He said the province will prepare information sessions for parents before vaccinations begin.

Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 and up on Wednesday.

The province's public health director said there were about 500,000 people in the 12-to-17 age group. Dr. Horacio Arruda urged teenagers to get the vaccine in order to be able to see their friends again and return to a normal life.

"I want to say to teenagers: please, get vaccinated, that's the way to get liberty," he said.

Dubé said the province recently crossed the milestone of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population with at least one dose. He said that beginning May 13, Quebec will begin offering electronic proof of vaccination.

Previously vaccinated people who want one will be sent a QR code by email, he added.

Arruda said the code could be useful for those who need to travel to countries that require proof of vaccination, and said it could help health officials verify a person's vaccination history in the case of a future pandemic.

He said, however, the Quebec government was still analyzing the idea of a "vaccine passport" that would grant inoculated people access to certain spaces. "We're not saying no, we're saying we need to look at it," Arruda said.

"There are practices, there are places that did it that had positive experiences, others that had negative elements, so what we want to do is to do it based on good evidence."

The province lowered the age of vaccine eligibility to 35 from 40 on Thursday afternoon, and has promised to open appointments to all adults by mid-May.

Quebec reported 907 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and seven more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one in the previous 24 hours. Hospitalizations dropped by eight, to 580, and 144 people were in intensive care, a drop of eight.

Dubé said the situation in the province ''is going in the right direction,'' with case counts, hospitalizations and test positivity rates all on the decline.

Montreal’s mayor said Thursday she’s hoping to get permission from public health authorities to allow the city’s restaurants to reopen outdoor patios at the beginning of June. Restaurant dining rooms in the city have been closed since last October, and Valérie Plante said business owners need a heads-up on when they might be able to reopen.

“Right now it’s been stable in Montreal, vaccination is going very well,” she said. “If it stays that way, it would be great to give an indication to restaurants and bars that they can open their (patios).”

Dubé partially brushed off her request, which he implied was based on a desire "to shake hands on a (patio) as opposed to in a closed area," during the upcoming municipal election campaign.

He said Premier François Legault has promised to provide a step-by-step reopening plan in the coming weeks, which will include directives for restaurants.

Legault said Thursday morning the plan will be similar to the road map presented by the Saskatchewan government, which is based on vaccination rates, but Quebec's could include other criteria, such as infection levels.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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