On paper, Montreal cancer patients can be vaccinated; in reality it's not so easy
MONTREAL -- Geatano Gallo has been battling cancer for the last two years and is now doing it in the middle of a pandemic. With a weakened immune system, the last thing he wants is a delay in getting his COVID-19 vaccine.
But that’s exactly what he and others in Montreal with a chronic illness are facing. And they want answers.
The trouble is, they don’t seem to be getting them.
After the province announced that those with serious chronic illnesses could get a shot from their doctors, Gallo, 54, asked his oncology nurse how to get it.
But he said he was told the hospital didn’t have the means to administer shots -- the plan the province had said was in place -- and to instead contact his pharmacy to get the vaccine.
He called his pharmacy on Monday, but there he was told that he couldn’t book an appointment and instead had to do it online on the government’s booking portal, Clic Santé.
However, Clic Santé doesn’t allow people who have chronic illnesses to book appointments. As of Thursday afternoon, only those who are over 60 or those who work in high-risk environments can book online, according to the website.
Tired of the runaround, Gallo contacted the health minister’s office for an explanation. To his bewilderment, an email from the minister’s office instructed Gallo to consult his pharmacy.
"You can contact your pharmacy to find out if they will be offering vaccination," read an email sent to Gallo and provided to CTV.
"If they do not offer this service, the Clic-Santé website will allow you to identify which pharmacy near you will offer this service."
Gallo believes the messaging the province puts out is different than the reality.
"It’s frustrating because until now, what the government was putting in place seems to be working, opening the groups one at a time. And when it came to Group 8, they just missed the boat," he told CTV News Thursday.
"They weren't organized. They weren't ready."
LOCAL AND PROVINCIAL INSTRUCTIONS DIFFER
This is the latest confusion surrounding the expanded eligibility of the vaccine to more vulnerable groups. In recent days, provincial officials had to clarify earlier statements about how people with chronic health conditions could get their first shot.
In fact, the health ministry, contrary to the email it sent Gallo, has specifically asked people with health conditions not to contact their pharmacists about getting shots, telling CTV last week that only those who qualify for hospital-based shots are eligible.
In the email the ministry sent Gallo, however, it said that pharmacists are, in fact, already taking part in vaccinating Group 8.
"Pharmacists can also help reach people who have certain conditions and who can't be vaccinated in a hospital setting," the email said.
To make matters more confusing, the regional health authority told CTV that chronically ill patients can discuss vaccine options with their doctors. It did not clarify the mixed messaging Gallo is getting.
"Without commenting on specific cases, we are confirming that vaccination of chronically ill patients who are being followed in the outpatient clinic will begin this week," said spokesperson Annie Charbonneau from the Ouest-de-l'Ile health district.
"It should be noted that those hospitalized with chronic illnesses have been vaccinated."
'I DON'T GO OUT AT ALL'
Gallo said that for him, getting the vaccine will put his mind more at ease. Variants of the novel coronavirus continue to rise, especially in Montreal, where hundreds of cases are recorded each day.
"I don't go out at all. I don't go to stores, I don't go anywhere. And the only outing I have is when I go to the hospital for treatment," Gallo said.
"I don't even go for walks because there's so many people outside. I'm just waiting to get a vaccine so I can start at least going outside a little bit and walking around, moving a little bit. It’s very, very frustrating."