MONTREAL — It was declared a "historic" day in Quebec as the first COVID-19 vaccines were given Monday to residents of two long-term care homes in the province.
Gloria Lallouz, a resident of Montreal's Maimonides Geriatric Centre, said she felt "fabulous" after receiving the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination in the city.
The stakes, the 78-year-old said, couldn't be higher.
"It’s my life," Lallouz told reporters outside the long-term care home, which received the first batches of the vaccine Monday morning. "It gives me the opportunity to see my family, to see my friends." She added that she is eager for others to follow suit.
"We're not going to be able to live properly until everybody gets a vaccination," Lallouz said.
Provincial health officials began administering the vaccine to residents and staff at Maimonides and the Saint-Antoine residence in Quebec City after receiving a shipment Sunday night. The remaining doses from the first shipment will go to health-care workers from other facilities.
Gisele Levesque, an 89-year-old living in the Saint-Antoine care home, was the first Quebecer to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, Premier Francois Legault announced on Twitter. Quebec deputy premier Genevieve Guilbault later told reporters that Levesque's 11:25 a.m. vaccination also made her the first person in Canada to get the shot.
"It gives us hope, concrete hope," Guilbault said about the vaccine rollout.
The Quebec City health authority said it received 3,000 doses of the vaccine Monday morning and that 220 Saint-Antoine residents and 400 staff will be the first vaccinated. In Montreal, the health authority expected to receive 1,950 initial doses.
"This is the first ray of light that we foresee after a very long period of darkness, and if we want to make the most of that hope, we have to remain very, very, very careful," Guilbault said.
That was echoed by Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube, who urged continued caution despite what he said was "a big, historic day for Quebec."
"You know, they say that it's a big marathon that we've been doing for nine months. We're starting to see … the light at the end of the tunnel," he said during a news conference outside Maimonides.
Speaking alongside Dube, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said she was emotional seeing the first people get vaccinated. "I see this as the first step forward into the light," Hajdu said.
The first vaccines were distributed as Quebec reported 1,620 new COVID-19 cases Monday and 25 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus. The province has reported a total of 165,535 infections and 7,533 deaths since the pandemic began.
Quebec is expected to announce new COVID-related restrictions this week. In an interview on Montreal radio station 98.5 FM Monday, Legault said the holiday period presents an opportunity to get the pandemic under control.
But, he said, his government won't go as far in closing the province as it did during the first wave in the spring.
"Construction is closed for two weeks during the holiday break," Legault said. "Schools are closed for two weeks; a lot of businesses are closed for at least one week. Do we need to close shops for a certain time? It's there we are looking at.
For the families and loved ones of those set to be inoculated, the vaccine brought a much-needed sense of relief after months of anxiety.
Kitra Cahana, whose 67-year-old father Rabbi Ronnie Cahana is quadriplegic and has lived at Maimonides since 2012, said she wasn't sure whether her father would receive the vaccine on Monday or Tuesday. But she said the family was "so thrilled" to see the vaccinations begin.
Kitra said a recent COVID-19 outbreak at Maimonides had been extremely stressful. "It really felt like the building was on fire, and my father was in the middle of it, and there was no way to rescue him," she said in an interview. "To hear that he's going to get vaccinated, it really feels like a little bit of light in the darkness."
That feeling was shared by Brenda Sachin, whose mother, Mildred, is also a resident at Maimonides. Sachin said she was happy the facility was among the first places to get the vaccine. But she said she will worry about residents during the 21-day period between when they receive the first and second doses of the vaccine.
She also said she had concerns some staff members would not get vaccinated. "I know there's some that absolutely will, but there's always going to be people that won't get vaccinated," Sachin said. "The quicker everybody gets vaccinated, the more relaxed we will all be."
Health-care workers in Quebec can choose whether or not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Dube said Monday it was too early to say how many would opt out, adding that he wasn't overly concerned.
"We've always said that we wanted to work on a voluntary basis with our employees. I would let a few hours go by and then I think we'll see how things will evolve," Dube said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2020.
Jillian Kestler-D'Amours and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press