TORONTO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada kicked off its inoculation campaign against COVID-19 on Monday by injecting frontline healthcare workers and elderly nursing home residents, becoming just the third nation in the world to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The first dose broadcast on live TV went to Anita Quidangen. The personal support worker at the Rekai Centre, a non-profit nursing home for the elderly in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, said she was “excited” to have been first in line.
Healthcare workers in masks and white coats applauded after she was injected.
“It’s a great relief. Clearly, it may only be the beginning of the end but we sense nevertheless that there will be an end to this pandemic,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, making clear he would not be pressing to have his shot immediately.
“We obviously have to give priority to the most vulnerable but the second I have a chance – like all healthy adults – I will do so very visibly and with enthusiasm,” he told French-language broadcaster Radio-Canada.
A second wave of the coronavirus is ripping across Canada, forcing several provinces to clamp down again on businesses and limit social gatherings. Canada has so far reported 460,743 cases, most of them in Ontario – the most populous province – and Quebec.
“It’s really good news for Canada. It’s really good news for Quebec,” federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said outside of the Maimonides Geriatric Center in Montreal, which also began to immunize patients on Monday.
Some 150 residents were set to receive shots at Maimonides on Monday, and 50,000 people will be vaccinated in Quebec by Jan. 4, Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dube said.
More than 60% of Canada’s 13,431 pandemic deaths overall have been in residences for the elderly, down from 80% in the first wave.
Canada’s federal health authorities on Friday called for provinces to impose more restrictions.
The United States also began inoculations on Monday after the United Kingdom kicked off its national effort last week.
The vaccine developed by German biotech BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc is given in two doses, three weeks apart. Canada is expecting to receive 30,000 doses this week and 249,000 total by the end of the year.
“It’s an act of love to get vaccinated,” said resident Rabbi Ronnie Cahana, speaking by Zoom, before receiving the shot. 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.
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.
(Additonal reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)