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Kingston-public health asking residents not to call to book COVID-19 vaccinations

KFL&A Public Health is reminding residents they cannot book COVID-19 vaccines at the moment. They will have to wait until the province unveils their booking system in the next month. Kraig Krause / Global News

KFL&A Public Health is asking residents to stop calling local health officials to try to book their COVID-19 vaccinations, reminding residents that bookings are not possible at the moment.

The health unit put out a tweet Thursday saying their offices have been getting a “large volume of calls” regarding the vaccine.

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In an interview with reporters Thursday, Dr. Kieran Moore said the health unit has been receiving between 40 and 50 calls a day on the matter.

“I absolutely understand that people want to be vaccinated. That’s great to hear. They clearly need guidance of how to become eligible,” the medical officer of health said.

But the local health unit does not have the ability to book vaccinations, nor does any other health authority in the region.

Read more: Kingston-area public health secures 2 arenas for mass COVID-19 immunization sites

Instead, the province will be implementing a booking system that will be accessible both online and by telephone, which he believes will be available in early March.

But for now, no one from the general public can book a COVID-19 vaccine.

“No public health agency or pharmacists or physician can book you at present.”

“So it’s pointless calling anybody,” he said.

For now, health officials are focused on getting those designated in Phase 1 of the province’s vaccination strategy immunized — specifically those associated with long-term care facilities and people in high-risk communities or institutions.

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The next priority groups will be people over the age of 80, all Indigenous adults, staff, caregivers and residents in retirement homes and other congregate settings for seniors, high-priority health-care workers and adults receiving chronic home care.

Read more: Feds unveil accelerated rollout schedule following fresh coronavirus vaccine deals

Moore said it’s still unclear when the general public will gain access to vaccinations, but the goal has always been by April — still, this will all depend on supply.

Nevertheless, to prepare for the possibility of mass immunizations, local health officials will move into their two main vaccination sites — arenas in the INVISTA Centre in Kingston and the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee — starting March 1.

“I want to do some dry runs. I want to ensure our clinics can be run efficiently and effectively and ensure that we have everything in place. So when we get vaccine we’ll be able to provide the vaccine in a safe, effective and efficient manner,” he said.

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Unlike in Phase 1, where vaccines were prioritized to larger urban centres before regions like Kingston, Moore said KFL&A will be getting doses at the same rate as every other health unit in Ontario once supply is there.

We now have heard from the premier and cabinet that we will get vaccine delivered to KFLA equitably, and so that distribution will be based on our total population. It will be equitably distributed across Ontario,” he said.

He added that the province will be holding back about 10 per cent of their supply to distribute more vaccines to regions dealing with outbreaks, but that Kingston “won’t be left behind” in the next phases of the vaccinations strategies.

Once they do start mass immunizations, Moore said the benchmark will be to immunize 2,000 people in Kingston a day, and 1,000 people in Napanee.

But, if supply grows, Moore hopes to push that total number up towards the eventual goal of 10,000 people a day.

Read more: Ontario updates list of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccines as supply expected to increase

Moore said there are also plans to open up a downtown vaccination location, perhaps at the Beechgrove Centre where COVID-19 tests are being completed now.

He hopes to see mobile vaccination clinics continue to visit high-risk settings, and as mentioned earlier this week, Kingston Community Health Center will be setting up a vaccination centre for those in the north of the region to access vaccines.

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Finally, when supply allows, Moore says primary care physicians and pharmacists will be able to administer the vaccine.

We absolutely want to see a fair, equitable distribution of sites and make sure anyone that wants the vaccine will be offered the vaccine over the next four to five months,” he said.

Until then, Moore is just asking the 160,000 or so local residents eligible for the vaccine to be patient for the province’s booking systems to be put in place.

So no need to call your pharmacist, your family physician or the health unit. We’re several weeks away from launching that and everyone will be informed at once through communication, through the Ministry of Health,” he said.