The provincial government is promising to do “better” after a call centre in Vancouver Coastal Health was able to book only 369 vaccination appointments on Monday.
The phone lines opened Monday for non-Indigenous seniors born in 1931 and earlier and Indigenous seniors born in 1956 and earlier.
During the 12 hours the lines were open, a total of 14,949 appointments were booked province-wide. Fraser Health led the way with 8,722 bookings, Interior Health made 2,456 bookings, Island Health set up 2,395 appointments and Northern Health signed up 1,007 seniors.
The Coastal Health phone line is operated by Telus and Health Minister Adrian Dix and the ministry team spent Monday night working with the supplier to fix the issues.
“Some of the issues are technical and caused by the sheer massive volume of calls,” Dix said.
“It’s our expectation as we go through the coming weeks that we’ll be adding resources. That will happen this week and that will happen in coming weeks because we simply have to respond quickly to people.”
In a statement, Telus says the call volumes continue to be significantly higher then expected. The company is working with the provincial government to train representatives and ‘scaling vaccine call centres in real time’ so more British Columbians can book vaccine appointments.
Fraser Health is the only health authority with an online booking system. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says by the time appointments are made for those 79 years of age and younger, there will be a province-wide booking system.
“I think we need to be aware that there is quite a large project in terms of developing a seamless online and phone system for April. It was not possible,” Henry said.
“Obviously, we wanted it to be ready for weeks ago, but it does take time to get those things together. Fraser Health is the only health authority that had that type of an online booking system that was robust enough at this point.”
The province only released call volume numbers on Monday morning, saying more than 1.7 million calls were placed to the phone lines across B.C. In many cases, frustrated people in Vancouver Coastal Health were calling hundreds of times after being met by a voice mail to call back.
The phone lines are set to open up for those born in 1936 and earlier next Monday.
There are 47,000 approximately people over 90 in B.C., and almost 20,000 of them have already been vaccinated in long-term care.
Of the Indigenous elders 65 and above, there are approximately 35,000 in the province and approximately 7,00 to 8,000 of that group has already been immunized.
This means the province still needs to book appointments for about 39,000 eligible British Columbians over the next six days.
Gail Helmcken spent much on Monday trying to book appointments for both her mom and dad, who are 93 years old.
Her father Jim started the calling at 7 a.m. and Helmcken picked up at 8:30 a.m. after there was no luck. Eventually, they gave up.
“Sometimes the message is thank you for calling, please call back, we are busy right now, sometimes you get a busy signal, sometimes there is no connection at all. It is frustration,” Helmcken said.
“I am very envious of Fraser Health, which has an online booking system. I was disappointed Coastal Health hasn’t implemented that.”
Ann-Marie Copping was attempting to book for her father Frank, who will soon 94 years old. Copping was able to get on hold but then the phone was disconnected after three hours. After a second hold stint of nearly three hours, she finally reached a call taker. As soon as the call taker took Coppin’s name, the phone line disconnected before an appointment could be made.
“I was pretty skeptical of everyone calling in at the same time on the first day,”
“I kind of went into this expecting it was going to fail and they met my expectations, which is unfortunate.”