The Saskatchewan government says it will follow new federal guidelines to speed up its vaccination schedule. The province is expanding the period between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to up to 120 days.
That means everyone over 18 years old in Saskatchewan will be able to receive a vaccination by the end of June, the province says.
Most other provinces have said they will also follow the recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI).
The new four-month gap is a departure from the previous practice of three weeks and in some cases up to six weeks between doses.
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said the decision is evidence-based and will speed up the vaccination rollout.
"The benefits are tremendous. We can emerge out of the pandemic three months earlier than we had anticipated. The two-dose program ... it would have taken us to September," said Shahab at a news conference Thursday in Regina.
"Having said that, everything will be monitored closely. All provinces will be closely monitoring."
Shahab said the maximum 16-week interval doesn't mean people won't get their second dose quicker than that.
Second doses will go as originally scheduled for residents and staff in long-term and personal care homes, according to the province.
Shahab also said people shouldn't worry about which of the three approved vaccines they receive.
"We all need to be patient. We need to be ready in our minds that when our turn comes, we should be ready to get vaccinated. It is my recommendation that we accept any vaccine," said Shahab.
The newly approved AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is expected to arrive in Sask. this month. Residents aged 60 to 64 and Phase 1 priority health-care workers will be offered the first 15,500 doses, according to the province.
The 60 to 64 age group have access to the new vaccine because the National Advisory Committee's recommends that AstraZeneca-Oxford supply be targeted to people younger than 65.
The province said administration of the AstraZeneca-Oxford doses will begin on March 22 and the doses will be distributed to six major hubs throughout the province.
All of the allocated doses are expected to be administered within one week on a by-appointment basis.
Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the addition both AstraZeneca-Oxford and moving to vaccinate all adults with a first dose means that phase one of the province's immunization plan should be complete by April.
Livingstone also said he is confident the second doses will be available when the time comes.
"We're optimistic for sure, with phase one and starting phase two early. And with the supplies that we're seeing on the horizon. But those second doses I don't think are going to be a challenge at all," Livingstone said.
The province said health-care workers will receive a notification of their eligibility for vaccination directly from the Saskatchewan Health Authority
Members of the public who are eligible for vaccination will be able to book by phone. The province said its phone-in booking system is undergoing final testing and is expected to launch next week.
The province said there may be some growing pains during the transition to the new booking system. Livingstone asked for patience from the public as the system launches.