Some Quebecers struggle to move up 2nd vaccine appointments

Government's decision to reduce the interval between doses to 8 weeks has so far only benefited those who initially received the Pfizer shot.

Montreal Gazette 4 minute read June 10, 2021

Quebec’s generally smooth-sailing vaccine rollout seems to have gotten stuck in the weeds this week.

The government’s decision to reduce the interval between COVID-19 vaccine doses from 16 to eight weeks has been generally well-received, but has so far only benefited Quebecers who received a first dose of the Pfizer shot and those who do not want to mix their first dose of AstraZeneca with an mRNA vaccine.

On Tuesday, Robert Vincent, whose first shot was AstraZeneca, headed to Décarie Square because he heard the walk-in clinic was administering second doses of the Pfizer shot. He was told he wasn’t eligible yet — not because of his age group, which should only be able to move second doses up later this week — but because if his first dose was AstraZeneca, so must be his second.

“I was very much taken aback because I feel like this whole second-dose rollout, they were quite opaque about what was going to happen to people who got AstraZeneca or Moderna on their first dose,” he said.

The Health Ministry said people who want to mix AstraZeneca with Pfizer will only be able to do so at their initial second dose appointment, 16 weeks after their first shot.

“(The government is) treating us as suckers for having gotten AstraZeneca in the first place,” Vincent said, explaining that his decision was based on wanting to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. “I wish they had better communication, and I wish they were more respectful of people who did go through the trouble to show up at these things and do what we thought was the right thing.”

On Tuesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Quebec’s current stash of Pfizer doses are reserved for people who received it as a first dose and teens who have yet to get theirs.

“So our preference, for now, is to give people their Astra or their Moderna when we have them,” he said. 

He tweeted on Wednesday the federal government’s incoming Moderna shipment will allow those who received it as a first dose to move up their second appointments soon.

Mary Drapeau and her husband, who say they took AstraZeneca in March because it was all that was available when they showed up to their appointment, are also hoping to take an mRNA vaccine as a second dose.

“We determined after talking about it — our family had all had Pfizer — that we would take the Pfizer, and we presumed we could do so because Minister Dubé said many times we could do it,” she said.

Drapeau explained she and her husband both have heart problems and would prefer not to receive a second dose of the AstraZeneca shot because of rare complications, but that they’re worried the efficacy of their first dose will wean as they wait to become eligible for an mRNA shot.

“It’s a catch-22, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” she said.

Even those who are eligible to move up appointments for second doses have run into roadblocks on the Clic Santé booking site, which the health ministry attributes to missing personal information. The confusion appears to have resulted in long lineups at walk-in clinics. The health ministry said it will expand services in some of those clinics as a result.

Beyond worries about complications linked to AstraZeneca, Vincent and Drapeau both want an mRNA vaccine because of early reports suggesting it provides more protection than two doses of adenovirus vaccines.

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, says the mix-match strategy has proven beneficial with other vaccines and that early data suggests that may be the case for the COVID one as well.

Still, Vinh thinks anyone who is eligible for a second dose — of any vaccine — should go ahead and get it.

He reiterated what many experts have said in response to AstraZeneca complications: they are extremely rare and should not scare people away from getting the shot.

“If we want to put it in perspective, those risks of those clots are less than the risks of severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis to penicillin,” he said. “In other words, the AstraZeneca vaccine is safer than penicillin by the factor of about tenfold.”

“We can’t get stuck in the weeds here, or certainly don’t want to lose sight of the forest for the sake of the trees,” he added. “This is not the time, really, to go shopping for different brands. This is not Nike versus Adidas, this is just get the shoes on.”