Saskatchewan's first mass drive-thru clinic for the COVID-19 vaccine opened Monday to 64-year-olds only.
The clinic is offering over 15,500 thousand doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.
Within hours of opening, over 500 people got the shot, with most people waiting up to five hours in line to get it.
"There's a lot of smiles and lots of tears from people who are able to get the vaccine," said Laveena Tratch, vaccine chief for the Regina Integrated Health Incident Command Centre.
"This is a big thing that gives people hope to get back to their lives, and we're happy to do that through this strategy."
The drive-thru clinic is the first to open up to the general population.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said there were some hiccups, such as lack of bathrooms, but by the afternoon portable restrooms were brought in to offer those in line some relief.
Those who got the shot were asked to wait 15 minutes in a recovery area for any allergic reactions. People did not have to get out of their cars to get the vaccine.
Tratch says no one who received the vaccine had any reported adverse reactions. They are expected to get their second dose in 16 weeks.
Donna Smith, who was 101st in line, teared up after receiving her first dose of the vaccine. She said she will celebrate the day with a beer. Smith is encouraging everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available, regardless of the manufacturer.
In addition to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Health Canada has approved COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson).
"It's just important to get as many needles in arms as we can in this province. I mean we've got a variant right now that seems to be taking over and that's a bit scary," Smith said.
Barb Nicholson, who waited about two hours to get the shot, said she is extremely grateful to get early access to the vaccine, but she would have given her spot up to a police officer.
"I'd give my spot up in a minute if [Premier] Scott Moe could get our police officers vaccinated because our front-line workers are essential to battling COVID and they're going into that situation every day. That's my request," Nicholson said.
Opening up the clinic to younger ages
On Monday, those eligible for the vaccine had to be born between March 16, 1956, and March 15, 1957.
However, Tratch said the clinic will likely open up to a younger age bracket as lines start to dwindle.
"We can begin to start to open it up to younger individuals as we go through. Our goal here is really to continue immunizing from oldest to youngest, to really support the protection that this provides to those that are most vulnerable and it's that age stratification that's most important for us here," Tratch said.
There are 16,000 people in Regina who are between the ages of 60 to 64, but Tratch said the health authority doesn't expect them all to get the vaccine.
The drive-thru clinic is also open to non-Regina residents, but the SHA did not immediately have information about how many people drove in from out of town.
The clinic is intended to be operational for at least seven days, so long as AstraZeneca vaccines are available. It will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
The clinic is not accepting any bookings.