Canada’s first COVID-19 vaccinations starting on Monday

Special freezers for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines, bound for northern territories, are loaded onto a transport aircraft near the Ottawa Airport in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada December 12, 2020. Picture taken December 12, 2020. Cpl Matthew Tower/Canadian Forces Combat Camera/Canadian Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS

Canada’s provinces of Quebec and Ontario are set to begin COVID-19 inoculations on Monday after some of the 30,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived over the weekend, making Canada one of the few Western nations to start vaccinations.

“The number of vaccinations that will take place today are probably pretty small,” retired general Rick Hillier, who is in charge of Ontario’s vaccine rollout, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. He said Toronto’s University Health Network Hospital will be doing a “small number” on Monday.

The United States also could begin doling out doses of the vaccine on Monday after the UK started inoculations last week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced late on Sunday that a first batch had arrived.

Hard-hit Quebec is prioritizing residents and staff in two care homes, a provincial Health Department spokeswoman said. More than 80% of Canada’s 13,350 pandemic deaths have been in such homes.

The vaccination campaign is set to begin on Monday, according to a statement from the province of Quebec.

Francine Dupuis, associate chief executive of the Montreal health network overseeing Maimonides Geriatric Center in Montreal, said if the vaccines arrive on schedule Monday morning, they “should be ready to go” at around 1 p.m. ET (1800 GMT) with the inoculations.

Maimonides saw 15 deaths in a recent outbreak, according to government data. Close to 300 of the facility’s 327 residents should be vaccinated over the course of a week, depending on their health, said Lucie Tremblay, director of nursing for the network that manages Maimonides.

Several Maimonides residents welcomed the vaccine.

“It’s an act of love to get vaccinated,” said resident Rabbi Ronnie Cahana, speaking by Zoom. Cahana, who is a quadriplegic, said he was overjoyed to hear the vaccine was coming. “I was dancing up and down the halls, and I can’t even walk.”

His daughter Kitra Cahana, who recently returned to Montreal from her home in the United States so she could be present if her father fell ill from COVID-19, said she hopes the vaccine ends her family’s constant worry for his safety.

“I think it’s hard to imagine the level of fear and worry that surrounds these homes,” she said. The first person to be vaccinated at the Centre d’hébergement Saint-Antoine in Quebec City, which has 229 residents, will be 89-year-old Gisèle Lévesque, according to a statement.

Canada’s federal health authorities on Friday called for provinces to impose more restrictions as forecasts project the current second wave of the coronavirus will spread rapidly.

The country has so far reported 454,852 cases, with 6,011 new ones recorded on Saturday.

Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier said she hoped being inoculated would restore some of the freedoms lost during the pandemic.

“I’d like to see grandchildren able to visit grandparents again,” Spanier said.

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