Quebec is lowering the minimum age requirement to register for the AstraZeneca brand of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Quebec Premier François Legault announced the measure Tuesday, on the heels of other provinces doing the same.
Under the plan, any Quebecer who is 45 and older can book their first AstraZeneca dose as of Wednesday morning. Prior to the change, only people older than 55 were able to get that vaccine at walk-in clinics.
Quebec had temporarily hit pause on administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone younger than that amid guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) about a possible link between the shot and rare blood clots.
Legault attempted to qualm any fears people might have.
“I invite you to take this very safe and efficient vaccine,” he said. “The vaccine is the way to regain our freedom, but that will only happen when a majority of Quebecers are vaccinated.”
Health authorities had spent the weekend actively encouraging people who are eligible for inoculation to get their first shot. In Montreal, soundtrucks made the rounds in areas hard hit by the pandemic in order to get the message out.
Legault said Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé would provide details on Thursday on the next phase of the vaccine rollout as it pertains to people with disabilities and their caregivers.
Since late December, Quebec has administered more than 2.4 million doses of the vaccine — the majority of which have been first shots.
The province has vowed to give a first jab to any adult who wants one by June 24.
Emergency measures extended in COVID-19 hot spots
Meanwhile, the premier said that tough measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus in COVID-19 hot spots appear to be working.
He warned, however, that what is happening in Ontario is a reminder that the situation remains very fragile and the health-care system is nearing capacity in various regions.
Ontario is under a provincewide stay-at-home order until mid-May. Premier Doug Ford called on other provinces to send health-care workers and vaccines to help as the province deals with an explosion of infections.
“We’re not immune to this in Quebec,” Legault said. “We have to stay very careful.”
Legault said the situation remains worrisome in three regions including the Capitale-Nationale, Chaudières-Appalaches and the Outaouais.
What has been observed in the Quebec City area is that the rise in cases has been followed by a rise in hospitalizations and in fatalities.
In the Beauce, COVID-19 patients have had to be transferred from the regional hospital to Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, while in the Outaouais patients are being relocated to hospitals in the Laurentians.
“The number of new cases is stabilizing but hospitalizations are increasing,” Legault said. “This is why I am announcing the special emergency measures will continue until May 3 in these three regions.”
Schools and non-essential businesses have been closed since the beginning of April following an explosion of cases linked to more virulent novel coronavirus variants.
Legault said the first thing to reopen once the situation is under control, will be elementary schools.
Legault expressed surprise that the situation remained stable in Montreal and Laval.
“We’re still resisting better than expected but the situation is very fragile and so we must maintain the restrictions,” he said.
That includes the overnight curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., that has led to numerous protests in recent weeks.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.