Vaccinations at Montreal seniors’ home to begin this weekend: health authorities

MONTREAL —
A long-term care home in Montreal told residents’ families that the first vaccinations will start even sooner than scheduled, as early as Friday — just two days after the vaccine was approved for use in Canada.

The delay will just depend on how soon the doses arrive, said local health authorities. If the rollout does begin this weekend, it would make Montreal the first place in the country to begin vaccinating against COVID-19.

“We will start vaccinating the residents as early as tomorrow [Friday] evening or Saturday evening,” a head nurse wrote to the family members of some residents at Maimonides care home in western Montreal.

The vaccinations will begin with “qualified” residents who have already consented, she said, adding that the deadline for families to give consent for this early group was Thursday afternoon.

Maimonides, which has had two serious outbreaks of COVID-19 this year, was picked as one of the first Quebec sites to receive the 4,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine on their way to the province.

The spokesperson for the health authority that oversees the publicly run care home said that Saturday is a more realistic estimate than Friday.

“We expect to start vaccinating residents of Maimonides this weekend, as early as Saturday night,” spokesperson Barry Morgan told CTV News.

“Timing depends on when we receive the vaccine.”

MOVING WITH LIGHTNING SPEED

The vaccination campaign was already moving at breakneck speed after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s surprise announcement on Monday that as many as 249,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine could arrive in Canada by the end of December, with the first shipments beginning within a week.

Trudeau explained that he hadn’t publicly said earlier that this kind of timing was possible because he didn’t want to get people’s hopes up.

Quebec Premier François Legault said later that day that 4,000 of the doses would be coming to Quebec and outlined the province’s plan for who will get priority, beginning with a small handful of long-term care homes.

The province said, however, that the vaccinations would begin next week.

Health Canada officially approved the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday. The same day, the health authority that oversees Maimonides said it was so busy organizing the lightning-speed vaccination campaign that it postponed a planned town hall for residents’ families, leaving some worried.

Morgan said the response from families has been enthusiastic, however.

The families received the consent form and background information sheet “as soon as we got them from the government,” he said.

“We received 100 positive replies in less than 3 hours. We will now be phoning those family representatives that have not responded yet.”

NOT YOUR AVERAGE SUPPLY CHAIN

A Montreal-based supply chain expert said that the logistics of moving this particular product on a tight deadline are dizzying, making this week’s speed even more impressive.

There’s the fact, well known by now, that the Pfizer vaccine must be kept stored at -70 degrees Celsius, and when it’s taken out of that cold storage it must be used within a few days, said Saibal Roy, who teaches at McGill’s Bensadoun School of Management.

But there are many other details that also must be precisely managed, he said.

“One box of vaccines requires maybe another eight to ten boxes of accessories,” he explained. “It might be the vials, it might be the syringes.”

Pfizer provides some of its own technology for use with the vaccine, and there’s also the dry ice and other elements of traveling cold storage.

“Then it has to be delivered at the correct place, at the correct time, so that the people… get it in the properway,” he said. If this coordination slips and even a small amount of the vaccine is wasted, that could mean unnecessary deaths.

In Canada, Roy said, the military will help with the supply chain logistics over the next few days.

This isn’t only because there have been security concerns around the virus — Interpol warned last week of modern-day piracy and fraud around the vaccines — but also because the military is simply “very, very used to these big logistical operations,” Roy said.

Vaccinations at Montreal seniors' home to begin this weekend: health authorities