TIMMINS -- The Porcupine Health Unit area is the first in the northeast to offer COVID-19 vaccines for people aged 18 and older, around two weeks ahead of schedule compared to other health units in the region.

The district's medical officer of health, Dr. Lianne Catton, told CTV the move arose out of dire necessity, as the area continues to face a rising number of COVID cases.

"Vaccine clinics in the region were expanded to all adults 18 years and older, in response to ... the significant surge in cases and outbreaks in recent weeks, the poorer health indicators of our community members, compared to the province, and the vast geography of the PHU region," Catton said in a statement.

She at least 50 per cent of people 18 and older have had their first dose of a vaccine, which consists mainly the Pfizer and Moderna brands at area immunization clinics.

Catton also said the use of smaller clinics, in addition to larger ones, allowed the health unit to give smaller communities better access to the shot.

Young people get their shots

Sam Roach was among the first to book an appointment for his first vaccine dose after the expanded eligibility was announced. He walked out of the clinic at the Mountjoy Arena confident that he's protecting himself and other against the virus.

"Just got to be safe right?" Roach said. "I like to visit my family, grandparents, like to keep them safe and pretty much for everyone else."

Other young people walked out of the clinic saying that the vaccination process was smooth.

Before getting her shot, Kayli Mascioli said she was initially worried about which brand of vaccine she would receive.

"Stuff in the news about AstraZeneca had me a little nervous, so I didn't want to get that one," said Mascioli, who received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Reports of rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine had Nihal Sahil nervous as well, though he initially thought it applied to all COVID vaccines.

"I got the Pfizer, so I'm safe," Sahil said.

'Vaccination is the answer'

Cochrane District EMS has been helping distribute the vaccines at clinics and at people's homes for those who are immobile.

The service's deputy chief, Marc Renaud, said he credits the progress with distribution so far to the determination of the health unit.

With the latest phase of eligibility, he hopes young people, especially those in or planning to go to college or university, strongly consider getting the shot.

"If you want to go back to school, if you want to have normal classes without restrictions, vaccination is the answer," Renaud said.

'I want to end the pandemic'

The rest of the health units in the northeast said they plan to open vaccinations to people aged 18 and older by the end of May.

Distributing proper information around the vaccines is just as important as the shot itself, said Renaud.

For Mascioli, one goal in getting her first trumps any hesitations she might have had.

"I want to end the pandemic. I want it to be over and back to normal."