City apologizes for hotline outages during update on Hamilton’s vaccine rollout

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer/BioNTEch coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine at The Michener Institute, in Toronto, Ontario on December 14, 2020. - (Photo by CARLOS OSORIO / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CARLOS OSORIO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images).

Hamilton’s medical officer of health offered an apology on Monday after the city’s new COVID-19 vaccine hotline was plagued by an outage due to high call volumes.

Preparations to begin vaccinating seniors aged 85 and older hit a number of bumps on the weekend as the city’s call centre was not equipped to handle the volume of the inquiries it received.

“I do want to apologize for the widespread frustration and dissatisfaction with our COVID-19 hotline over the weekend and today,” Richardson said.

“We do appreciate just how much people want to ensure that both they, themselves and their loved ones are registered, and I’m very sorry for the angst that this has been causing.”

Read more: Pent up demand for COVID-19 vaccinations means busy weekend for Hamilton hotline

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Emergency operations centre (EOC) director Paul Johnson said the issue was simply a combination of technical issues and staffing tied to the limitations of the city’s call systems.

“The reality is that our systems at the city were not a call center based piece,” Johnson said.

The EOC boss says with the province’s booking system yet to launch, the city opted to use its locally-based system in a push to keep clinics rolling as new vaccines begin arriving over the next few weeks.

“The other option was to simply wait until the province’s system comes online, and we just weren’t prepared to do that,” said Johnson.

Richardson says despite the issues, public health was able to register about a thousand people 85 and older on the weekend. The MOH estimates about 11,000 people in Hamilton meet the current age requirement.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s Hospital has began contacting patients over 85 who received care at either one of their facilities or at Hamilton Health Sciances (HHS) in the current calendar year to get a running start on booking people into the clinics.

Read more: Hamilton reports 54 new COVID-19 cases, over 30 variant cases discovered in Niagara

Immunizations began at the St. Charles West Fifth vaccine clinic on Monday for those who successfully registered.

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The province’s booking system for individuals 80 and older is set to start on March 15.

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Richardson says the city is still receiving “low volumes” of vaccines with only about 5,000 arriving from the province each week.

Just over 36,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Hamilton, about 25,000 at the HHS fixed clinic and close to 11,000 through the mobile clinic.

About 16,000 doses have been given to health-care workers, with about 6,000 tied to a staffer at an LTCH or retirement home. Just over 7,000 shots have been given to residents in homes and 1,500 to essential caregivers.

Over 200 people experiencing homelessness vaccinated

Another group singled out for priority vaccinations are residents and staff in the city’s shelter system.

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With cases growing at eight city shelter outbreaks, the mobile clinic administered over 200 vaccines to couples, families, and individuals who qualified on the weekend, according to Richardson.

“We had 132 vaccines administered on Saturday, 118 on Sunday, there are 90 appointments booked for today,” Richardson said.

Read more: AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine not recommended for people in Canada over age 65: NACI

Hamilton has eight shelters in an outbreak as of Mar. 1. Cases at the facilities grew by six more on Monday to 86 in total, with 67 residents testing positive for the coronavirus.

With the surge at the Salvation Army location on 94 York Boulevard accounting for 50 total cases, the EOC is now setting up an additional isolation centre at the Central Memorial rec center on West Avenue South with a potential capacity of 30.

The city already has an isolation shelter at the Bennetto community centre on Hughson Street which accommodates 25 residents.

City staff redeployed to support vaccinations

In order to support the upcoming bump in vaccine availability, the city has begun redeploying and hiring additional staff to accommodate the seven-day a week operation.

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About 350 employees from museums, the forestry program and municipal service centres have already been redeployed in recent weeks with at least 300 needed to support the “non-clinical side” of the city’s COVID-19 response, according to EOC boss Paul Johnson.

Read more: Japan upset about China’s use of anal coronavirus tests on visitors

“So this is how people will get welcomed when they come, how they’ll be checked in and checked out of these clinics, everything outside of the folks who are busily making sure that they administer the vaccine into individual arms.”

Johnson says the redeployments will not impact community a number of critical community services like first responders, or waste collectors.

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