They'll be using carrot-and-stick tactics with community outreach in one hand and a proposed tax in the other.
Quebec is hoping to chip away at the number of unvaccinated people in the province by targeting local areas with lower vaccination rates in a campaign that will include setting up hotlines, pop-up clinics and other outreach projects.
"We're going to intensify our efforts in order to establish strategies in areas with lower vaccination rates, in order to connect with the most people possible," said Dr. Lionel Carmant, Quebec's junior health minister, who is spearheading the campaign, in a news conference on January 24.
"We want to meet people on the ground, explain the benefits of vaccination, using a positive approach."
The carrot of this positive approach could be seen as a sharp contrast to the stick of the government's proposed tax on the unvaccinated, and other measures – but Carmant brushed off suggestions of conflict.
"I think it's important to make sure that as many people as possible get their first doses," Carmant said. He added that the more people they reach in this new initiative, "the fewer people will be paying the vaccination tax."
He said the campaign would mainly target people in marginalized and vulnerable communities – more than those who believe they are in good health and don't need a vaccine. He also vowed that these efforts to get more people on board would not be used to gather personal information with the proposed tax in mind.
"My goal is not to reinvent the wheel," Carmant said of these new efforts. "It's to make existing measures more effective."
Despite being a small fraction of the population, the unvaccinated are over-represented in hospitals, especially intensive care, Carmant said.
"There are nonetheless around 540,000 Quebecers who have not yet gotten their first dose," he said. "It's important to note that this isn't just a risk on paper, but genuine risk that is becoming a reality right now in our hospitals."
A pop-up clinic will open in downtown Montreal, Carmant said, with more planned, and health officials will work with local organizations and leaders to reach specific communities.
As of January 24, 85.5% of eligible Quebecers have received their first dose of the vaccine, and a total 17,165,403 doses have been administered, according to Quebec government data. 668,956 people got a shot in the last week. An additional 455,130 doses are scheduled to be administered this week.
Quebec has been making life increasingly difficult for people reluctant to get vaccinated for some time. The activation of the vaccine passport on September 1 2021 meant the unvaccinated had to forget about bars, restaurants, clubs, cinemas, sporting events and many other leisure and entertainment pursuits.
More recently, Quebec expanded the vaccination passport requirement to cover SAQ and SQDC, the province-owned liquor and cannabis stores. The announcement was closely followed by a 300% increase in first-dose appointments.
Not long after, larger retail stores – excluding grocery stores and pharmacies – were added to the list. That restriction takes effect today, January 24.
At a national and global level, travel restrictions enacted by Canada and most other countries mean Canadians who are not vaccinated can't leave the country. Over the weekend, new U.S. policy came into effect preventing anyone without proof of vaccination from entering the country via land borders.