The head of Alberta Health Services has issued an apology after complications with the booking system for COVID-19 vaccinations when it launched for seniors 75 and older this week.
Alberta Health Services opened its phone lines and online vaccination booking tool for community seniors born in 1946 or earlier at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Within minutes, Albertans began reporting issues with the site crashing or not loading, and a busy signal when calling 811 to book appointments.
In a message posted online, CEO and president of Alberta Health Services Dr. Verna Yiu said AHS underestimated the number of seniors 75 years and over who would book at launch time.
“We made an error in judgment in how we stress-tested our online booking system,” Dr. Yiu said. “We had planned for tens of thousands at a time, and demand far exceeded that, leading to technical issues that took several hours to resolve.”
According to Dr. Yiu, the technical issues have been fixed with a queuing waiting room in place, and the system is stable.
Read more: Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking site experiences ‘very high volumes’ as appointments open to those 75 and older
In two days, AHS said more than 120,000 Albertans signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which is more than half the population of the age group in Alberta.
More than 12,000 seniors aged 75 and over have been immunized in just two days.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the online booking tool is now capable of handling more than 5,000 bookings per hour.
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“I want to publicly and personally apologize to anyone who experienced frustration, anger, or worry over what should be a hopeful time in the pandemic response,” Dr. Yiu said. “We also acknowledge the public confidence in our ability to deliver immunizations has been shaken.”
Dr. Yiu also addressed long lineups at immunization clinics in her message to Albertans Friday night, as some people showed up to their appointments nearly an hour early.
Several clinics reported long wait times for vaccinations, including a location in north Edmonton, where people waiting in line told Global News they had been waiting long past their relatives’ appointment times and they still weren’t in the building.
Dr. Yiu said everyone who has an appointment is getting a vaccine, but some of the clinics are behind schedule because officials are taking time with each patient, which might require an extension to the 10-minute allotment for each immunization.
According to Dr.Yiu, people are being encouraged to wait in their vehicles until their time slot.
“No one wants to line up outside in the Alberta winter, and no one should,” Dr. Yiu said. “I thank you for your patience as we move forward with the next phases of immunization.”
Read more: What are the differences between Canada’s approved COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s what we know
Dr. Yiu’s message said AHS has taken several steps to address the concerns with the booking system and line ups in the future, including additional staff and signage at sites, and for phone lines at Health Link.
AHS said it’s also looking into expediting more vaccination sites in Edmonton to cut down on significant lineups.
Dr. Yiu’s message also acknowledges there were problems and that AHS knows as an organization that it can be better.
“We are working to make sure we are better prepared, and that we serve Albertans with care, respect and integrity,” Dr. Yiu said. “We have been here with you throughout the pandemic response, and we will continue to be here for all Albertans.”