Error messages and other issues were reported Monday after Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine booking system saw tens of thousands of residents log on to schedule shots for those aged 80 and up.
In southern Ontario, the Grey Bruce Health Unit warned residents not to use the portal because of booking errors that occurred with its clinics.
“Please do not attempt to book an appointment at this time,” it said just hours after the provincial site’s launch. “We will update as soon as the issues are resolved.”
The Simcoe-Muskoka Health Unit said some people were encountering error messages that indicated no local appointments were available through the booking site for its region. The health unit said the province had not finished inputting all of its clinics and was hoping to resolve the issue Monday.
Elsewhere, users reported seeing error messages after filling out the website’s vaccine booking forms.
Canada pre-purchased millions of doses of seven different vaccine types, and Health Canada has approved four so far for the various provincial and territorial rollouts. All the drugs are fully effective in preventing serious illness and death, though some may do more than others to stop any symptomatic illness at all (which is where the efficacy rates cited below come in).
- Also known as: Comirnaty
- Approved on: Dec. 9, 2020
- Efficacy rate: 95 per cent with both doses in patients 16 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 15-year-olds
- Traits: Must be stored at -70 C, requiring specialized ultracold freezers. It is a new type of mRNA-based vaccine that gives the body a sample of the virus’s DNA to teach immune systems how to fight it. Health Canada has authorized it for use in people as young as 12.
- Also known as: SpikeVax
- Approved on: Dec. 23, 2020
- Efficacy rate: 94 per cent with both doses in patients 18 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 17-year-olds
- Traits: Like Pfizer’s vaccine, this one is mRNA-based, but it can be stored at -20 C. It’s approved for use in Canada for ages 12 and up.
- Also known as: Vaxzevria
- Approved on: Feb. 26, 2021
- Efficacy rate: 62 per cent two weeks after the second dose
- Traits: This comes in two versions approved for Canadian use, the kind made in Europe and the same drug made by a different process in India (where it is called Covishield). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest guidance is that its okay for people 30 and older to get it if they can’t or don’t want to wait for an mRNA vaccine, but to guard against the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder, all provinces have stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca.
- Also known as: Janssen
- Approved on: March 5, 2021
- Efficacy rate: 66 per cent two weeks after the single dose
- Traits: Unlike the other vaccines, this one comes in a single injection. NACI says it should be offered to Canadians 30 and older, but Health Canada paused distribution of the drug for now as it investigates inspection concerns at a Maryland facility where the active ingredient was made.
How many vaccine doses do I get?
All vaccines except Johnson & Johnson’s require two doses, though even for double-dose drugs, research suggests the first shots may give fairly strong protection. This has led health agencies to focus on getting first shots to as many people as possible, then delaying boosters by up to four months. To see how many doses your province or territory has administered so far, check our vaccine tracker for the latest numbers.
“Tried York Region site, no spots available,” one person trying to book an appointment for her mother said on social media. “Tried Ontario gov site, was in queue, then two error messages. Now on hold in phone queue going on 18 minutes.”
The online booking system went live at 8 a.m., and the site showed more than 8,000 people in the queue for an appointment a few minutes later, with an estimated wait time of about an hour.
The lineup appeared to grow quickly, with some who went on the site shortly afterwards reporting a longer estimated wait time.
Some who went onto the site shared their successes on social media.
“My in-laws (with the help of their doting son) both got COVID-19 vaccine appointments for next Tuesday at City Hall. I can’t believe how happy and relieved I am!” one Ottawa resident said on Twitter.
Others took issue with the time required to reserve a spot.
“Already frustrated with this new Ontario vaccine booking system. While trying to book for an older person went on at 8 a.m. and found I have to wait over 20 minutes to do an online booking and phone lines all ringing busy,” one wrote.
Qualifying residents can visit the online portal or call a hotline to book their appointment.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the system’s launch or the issues that had been reported.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a social-media message Monday morning that currently appointments are only available for Ontario residents 80 and older.
“Please be patient and only access the online booking tool or call for support if you are eligible for a vaccination appointment or assisting someone who is,” she said.
Premier Doug Ford has urged those who don’t yet qualify for a shot to keep off the website so that it doesn’t crash.
He is expected to provide an update on the portal launch later Monday.
Mr. Ford announced that retired general Rick Hillier will leave his role as head of Ontario’s vaccine task force when his contract expires on March 31.
He says Mr. Hillier took the job indicating it would only be a short-term appointment and that he would help the province set up its vaccine distributions network.
Mr. Ford says he has tried to persuade Mr. Hillier to continue on in the role, but he has said individual health units are now in a position to continue the rollout.
Some of Ontario’s 34 public-health units have already established their own systems for booking vaccination appointments, but the provincial portal will either enhance or replace those setups in many areas.
In addition to allowing vaccine-seekers to book their shots, the portal also provides instructions on how to schedule appointments based on protocols in place in each specific health unit.
Residents who are eligible to get vaccinated can book online at www.ontario.ca/bookvaccine, while those wishing to schedule by phone can call 1-888-999-6488.
But even as the vaccination drive ramps up, some regions of the province are still dealing with a troubling number of COVID-19 cases.
Sarnia-Lambton moved into the “grey lockdown” stage of the province’s colour-coded pandemic response framework on Monday.
Lambton Public Health said the lockdown is a “declaration of emergency” after weekly case numbers rose sharply among residents under age 50.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley wrote to Mr. Ford on Monday, asking that in future, any region moved into lockdown by the province should be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“It is a simple step your government can take immediately that would alleviate and diminish the distress as we enter the ‘Grey Lockdown Zone’ and give people here optimism and hope for the future,” Mr. Bradley said.
Ontario reported 1,268 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and nine more deaths linked to the virus.
A total of 1,191,553 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given out in the province so far.
The Canadian Press
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