People born in or before 1951 who live in the Outaouais can register for their COVID-19 vaccine appointments starting Wednesday.
Previously, this age group was only eligible to book an appointment if they were a caregiver for someone 80 and older at least three days a week. They had to be vaccinated at the same time as the person they care for.
The mass vaccination campaign started Wednesday with people 85 and older who already booked their appointments at the Palais des Congrès in downtown Gatineau, Que.
Rolande Gendron was an hour early for her appointment — one of the first of the day at the convention centre. She said she booked it right when appointments opened in late February.
"I'm very happy. It will protect me and I think we should all be vaccinated," Gendron said. "This virus is very strong."
She said she's been ordering groceries online and limiting contacts, including with her family, and she doesn't expect that to change until more people get vaccinated and she has her second dose.
60 and older could have first shot by May
Vaccine clinics will be expanding to five more locations as of Thursday in Buckingham, Wakefield, Saint-André-Avellin, Maniwaki and Campbell's Bay.
Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO) said vaccine supply is predictable enough that new appointments will continue to be added.
Dr. Carol McConnery, infectious disease specialist with CISSSO, said that could mean that by the end of April everybody who is 60 and older could have their first shot and that might be a crucial point for lessening public health restrictions.
"If we immunize everyone over the age of 65, well maybe we'll be able to have our neighbours over for supper," she said.
Current immunization coverage is too low to allow for changes in behaviour, she said.
Helping seniors get their shot
Gatineau's Centre d'entraide aux aînés, a resource centre for seniors living independently in the community, has seen an increase in calls as vaccines come online.
The centre helps people book their appointments through the website and arrange transportation to and from vaccination sites.
Nancy Rancourt, co-ordinator of transportation and volunteers at the centre, said volunteers will also accompany seniors who might be nervous as they receive their vaccines.
"A lot of them didn't go out for a whole year. Just to go out for a simple walk is a challenge for some of them so taking the step further to go out, get in a car, get in a line with 200 people, is really shocking for them. So we need to take baby steps with them," Rancourt said.