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Demand far outpacing supply as MLHU expands COVID-19 vaccines to those age 80-plus

A photo shared on Dec. 22, 2020 shows a shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in London, Ont. via @LHSCCanada/Twitter

The Middlesex-London Health Unit says all available COVID-19 vaccine appointments for seniors aged 80 and older have been booked up for the next two weeks.

As well, because of “uncertainty in vaccine supply,” the health unit is only booking appointments two weeks out, meaning that the elderly can try again to book an appointment starting 8 a.m. Wednesday for March 17, starting at 8 a.m. Thursday for March 18, and so on.

Read more: MLHU expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, announces appointment-booking

According to the health unit, more than 5,000 appointments for seniors aged 80 and older were booked for between March 6 and 16 within two hours of online and telephone booking being made available.

The online system saw nearly 30,000 hits and had “no significant outages” but the phone system saw over 200,000 phone calls and experienced outage issues.

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Speaking on London Live with Mike Stubbs, medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie says they received roughly 120,000 phone calls in the first 20 minutes that lines opened.

“We had 10 people fully trained and ready to go. It’s just impossible to staff for 120,000 calls in 20 minutes,” he explained.

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“So, of course, the phone lines were overwhelmed there. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to get a vaccine. Must have been very frustrating to try and call in there.”

Mackie told Global News that the MLHU will be adding more phone lines, hoping to double them, in time for Wednesday morning.

“The reality is that, you know, as much as we want to make sure our phone line is available as an option, the website will be a more stable platform.”

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He added that for those using the website, if spots are full there is an option to enter an email so the health unit can get back to them to let them know when more spots are open.

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Donna McNicoll told Global News that she went online at 9 a.m. Tuesday to try to book an appointment for her 84-year-old father.

“Like many others, I was disappointed,” she said.

“The system is a bit frustrating too. It asked you to select the location, at the next step it asks for the date, after selecting the date the systems says, ‘There are no times for this date — please select another date,’” she said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to offer the next available time? I suspect most seniors will make themselves available.”

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She says after repeatedly trying to choose new dates only to see no times available, the website updated to say that booking is full and will reopen on Wednesday.

“I will have to try again,” she said.

Both appointment booking options are now closed and set to reopen at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Appointments can be booked via www.covidvaccinelm.ca or by calling 226-289-3560.

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