KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region is following new provincial guidelines on the interval between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, extending it to 16 weeks.

In a news release, health officials said extending the interval means "more people will be protected sooner."

Starting Wednesday, residents will have their second vaccine appointment booked 16 weeks following their first dose. Appointments already booked for second doses will be changed to fit the new interval. Residents will get their new appointment time by the middle of April, officials said in the release.

The region’s top doctor applauded the move on Wednesday.

“We’re pleased that this change in Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination program will result in more residents of Waterloo Region receiving their first dose protection as quickly as possible,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said in the release. “As per provincial direction, residents of long-term care homes and retirement homes who are at greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19 and serious illness will continue to receive their second dose at the interval recommended by the vaccine manufacturer.”

The interval applies to two-dose vaccines approved by Health Canada, which include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.