Standing in Decarie Square shopping centre, clad in uniform, Lt.-Col. Dan Doran is right at home.
“I grew up in NDG-Westmount, so this is exactly my area when I was a kid. This is where you came to the mall,” said the military reservist.
Now, Doran is the commanding officer in charge of forces deployed in Montreal-area vaccination centres to help with Quebec’s third dose vaccination efforts, as the health-care system struggles with rising hospitalizations.
Some 200 members of the armed services have been stationed across the province since Jan. 3.
In December, for a second time since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Quebec government requested help from the Canadian Armed Forces to better manage COVID-19 in the province amid the Omicron wave.
Troops helped Quebec and other provinces during the first wave of the pandemic when the virus tore through long-term care homes (CHSLDs) and other seniors’ centres. Doran was one of those troops.
“This is different than  in that we’re not in CHSLDs, we’re at vaccination centres,” said the commanding officer of the Montreal Territorial Battalion.
“But at the end of the day, the overall mission remains the same, which is to support our community where needed and when needed.”
Mission: Help vaccinate most people as fast as possible
For the past week, troops have been providing support in vaccination centres in several regions including Montreal, Laval and the Eastern Townships to aid with vaccinating as many people in the shortest time period possible.
On Saturday, about 20 soldiers were deployed to two vaccination centres in the Chaudière-Appalaches.
The soldiers are not administering vaccines to the public, but are instead taking care of administrative and logistical tasks to help the centres run smoothly.
“Most of our soldiers are either doing data entry, so supporting the entry of information when people come in to get their vaccine, whether with an appointment or a walk-in,” said Doran.
Other soldiers are tasked with general assistance, such as helping those with limited mobility and guiding people through the steps of the vaccination process.
To prepare for deployment, Doran says every participating soldier had to complete online courses offered through Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS).
Troops then partook in one to two days of on-the-job training sessions with current employees at the vaccination sites.
Quebec’s decision to call for outside help reflects the dire situation of COVID-19 throughout the province.
On Sunday, Quebec hospital admissions leapt by 140, totalling 2,436 — an all-time pandemic high. The added pressure has prompted several hospitals across the province to delay surgeries and medical appointments.
Residents comforted by military presence
Irini Zarokosta got her third dose on Sunday at the Decarie Square vaccination centre. She says the presence of soldiers is a comforting sight.
“Maybe we’re going to have better control [of COVID-19] since it’s the army and they know [how to] better structure some certain issues,” said Zarokosta.
Kim Fuller also got her third dose on Sunday. She believes military aid is necessary and reflects the gravity of the situation.
“Any help that we can have to have better coordination and a smooth running of things means that more people will come out and [get their third dose],” she said.
As of Sunday, 23 per cent of Quebecers have received three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Residents 40 and over are eligible to book an appointment for their third COVID-19 vaccine starting on Monday as the province continues to roll out booster shots to the general population. By Jan. 17, all Quebec adults will be able to register on ClicSanté to get a third dose.