Quebec regions struggle with lower vaccination rates and school outbreaks

Public health authorities have expressed concern about Nunavik, areas in the eastern municipalities and the Chaudière-Appalaches region.

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As Quebec prepares to vaccinate young children against COVID-19, regions of the province with the lowest vaccination rates are trying to fend off recent increases in new cases.


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In addition to Nunavik, which has the lowest vaccination coverage in Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé last week expressed concern about the eastern municipal areas and the Chaudière-Appalaches region.

In an interview, Estrie’s director of public health, Dr. Alain Poirier, said that there are three areas in the territory that are of particular concern, where cases are increasing among both children and adults ages 30 to 39.

“But other than the lower vaccination coverage there, it’s hard to know exactly why it’s happening,” Poirier said of the recent increase. “So, for me, it is not incomprehensible to think that the same could soon be seen elsewhere in Quebec.”

Overall, if you include children who are not yet eligible, just under 77 percent of Quebec’s population is considered fully vaccinated. That number is slightly lower in Estrie, and about five percentage points lower in each of the three risk areas in the region.


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The worst affected area in Estrie is the regional municipality of Le Granit, which includes Lac-Mégantic. As of Monday, the area had the equivalent of 525 active cases per 100,000 residents. For comparison, Montreal reports 96 cases per 100,000 residents.

In terms of transmission, Poirier said schools have remained a problem during the fourth wave. Last week, massive tests carried out after an outbreak at a Magog elementary school revealed more than 60 cases.

And while vaccination coverage in the 12-17 age group is nearly 80 percent, high schools have also presented a challenge, Poirier said, with few barriers between students in different classes.

To illustrate the problem, Poirier said that tracing after a recent outbreak at a high school revealed that an infected student had nearly 100 contacts.


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Every school that has recently had outbreaks has been in an area with lower overall vaccination coverage, Poirier said. To try to mitigate the situation, when the province removed the mask mandate for high school students on November 15, the regional health board decided to keep it in two areas where community transmission was high.

“We are working hard on it. We have teams that spread the message about vaccination everywhere we can, ”Poirier said.

“It is not that we are far below the provincial average; we are a couple of percentage points down. But if you apply that to 100,000 people somewhere or, let’s say, a high school, you end up with hundreds of unvaccinated teens in one place, “he added.

“And when a virus as transmissible as the Delta variant gets in there, it will spread.”


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In Nunavik, where vaccination coverage is only 52%, infections have recently peaked since the beginning of the pandemic.

The northern territory reported 198 active cases this week, with the majority concentrated in Akulivik and Salluit. A spokesperson for the regional health board was not available for comment Monday.

In the Chaudière-Appalaches region south of Quebec City, vaccination coverage is around 76%, but it is lower in two areas: in Beauce and the regional county municipality of Les Etchemins.

“It’s a little weaker there, and obviously those are the areas that worry us the most when we know there could be a fifth wave,” said Marie-Ève ​​Tanguay, who is in charge of vaccination in the region.


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As of Monday, the two areas reported 122 and 128 active cases per 100,000 residents, respectively.

Tanguay said the biggest challenge remains convincing people that the vaccine is safe and necessary. Many residents, especially those between the ages of 18 and 39, still believe they are not at risk for severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19, he said.

“But we are administering the first doses every day in our clinics, so people are still changing their minds,” he said. “It is increasing slowly, timidly, but at least it continues to increase, it has not yet stalled.”

As in Estrie, Tanguay said that much of the current transmission in the region involves young children. Local public health teams are eager to start vaccinating them once the Quebec campaign kicks off, he added, with dedicated clinics already established.


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“We are ready,” Tanguay said, “and we know that from the moment we can protect them, we will see a decrease in overall transmission.”

Health Canada approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s children’s dose of its mRNA vaccine for young children last Friday.

On the same day, Quebec said the campaign could start in the province this week, with the aim of giving each child a dose before the holidays.

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