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MONTREAL -- Quebec is revamping its vaccine appointment system to allow people to pick -- or avoid -- the AstraZeneca vaccine, hoping to use up a new windfall of doses while avoiding last-minute refusals.
"It'll be clearly indicated that at this time and in this place, it'll be AstraZeneca," said Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé at a press conference.
Today, 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected to arrive in Canada from the U.S., which made a huge volume of the vaccine available to Canada and Mexico. The U.S. hasn't yet approved use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
That particular vaccine, however, faced a new blow to its image on Monday when a Canadian federal advisory committee recommended suspending its use for those under 55 due to a risk of blood clots.
There had previously been worries about its safety for the elderly, but the same committee said earlier this month that those concerns are unwarranted.
Quebec authorities echoed that, with Premier François Legault saying it was completely safe for those over 55. Dubé also said that as someone who got the AstraZeneca vaccine two weeks ago, he's had no symptoms.
However, the province has followed recommendations and suspended its use for younger people, so all the new doses must be used by older people for the time being.
The key is to get their consent in advance, said Dubé.
"We're going to get things organized so that places of vaccination, and vaccination schedules, [have it] clearly indicated that [those doses] are from the AstraZeneca vaccine," he said.
He seemed to suggest that there will be an incentive to pick those doses, however, since it may speed up a person's vaccination date by weeks.
People who are 55 and over have "the choice between getting vaccinated in April or in May," Dubé said, if he or she "decides that they, for example, prefer having the vaccine from AstraZeneca, right away."
The changes will be made in the Clic-Santé website and will be visible to the public soon, Dubé said.
In a statement later in the week, Quebec's health ministry said the details of the new system are still being worked out, and that over 400,000 new AstraZeneca doses are still on their way to the province.
"The next AstraZeneca vaccine delivery is scheduled for the week of April 5," the ministry wrote in a statement on Wednesay, March 31.
"When vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine resumes, everything will be in place so that people are informed in advance of the vaccine that will be given to them."
Quebec has already seen that some people, including older people, have refused the AstraZeneca vaccine, especially in the first week that it was available, when there were concerns about older people's safety.
"There's bad press around that vaccine," Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda acknowledged.
"But now, before people even come, they're going to know... what it is."
The suspension of use for people under 55 is "temporary," Arruda stressed, in order to allow "an analysis of data."