WINNIPEG -- Manitobans 40 and older are now eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Health Minister Heather Stefanson made the announcement in a news release on Monday, saying the eligibility expansion is effective immediately at medical clinics and pharmacies.

“Tens of thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine remain in clinics and pharmacies across the province, which is why we're expanding the eligibility criteria for the vaccine,” Stefanson said.

“I want to thank physician and pharmacy partners for their work to provide vaccine and look forward to the numbers of doses administered increasing quickly over the coming days.”

This news comes after the province halted AstraZeneca vaccinations for those under the age of 55 last month, due to concerns over rare but dangerous blood clots.

In Monday’s news release, Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force, said based on all the evidence, the province believes the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the potential risks.

“Expanding the criteria will help us reach more Manitobans, particularly those who may face challenges or face barriers in going to a supersite or pop-up clinic,” she said.

Stefanson added that this change in eligibility comes as the province continues to expand its capacity to administer vaccines.

The minister said the province is implementing a more responsive ordering process for medical clinics and pharmacies; opening new supersites, and adjusting the use of pop-up clinics by placing them in areas where there are barriers for people to get to a supersite.

The province is also making changes to the planning process for supersites as more vaccines are being delivered to Manitoba.

Johanu Botha, co-lead for the Vaccine Implementation Task Force, said Manitoba has been operating with a small margin of doses carrying over from one week to the next.

“But supplies seem to have stabilized, so we are now able to tighten our processes and add a bump to our doses administered to help us get needles into arms as quickly as possible,” he said in a statement.