Coronavirus: Okanagan residents report COVID-19 vaccine booking challenges

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WATCH: After many British Columbians found it very difficult to make vaccine appointments for eligible seniors Monday, the province is pointing the figure at a contractor. As Megan Turcato reports, Okanagan residents are among those struggling with the call system – Mar 9, 2021

B.C.’s Interior may have faired better than some regions when it came to booking vaccine appointments for eligible seniors on Monday, but residents still reported serious issues getting through to the booking hotline.

The province’s Health Minister blamed the province-wide problems on a contractor. The company issued an apology on Tuesday.

Monday was the first day to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments for people aged 90 or older and Indigenous seniors.

The health authority phone numbers set up for bookings were deluged with calls.

Read more: Province announces urgent and primary care centre for Penticton

The province said 1.4 million calls came in during the first 90 minutes the phone lines were live.

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In the Okanagan, siblings Steven King and Laurie Postill spent most of the day on Monday trying to book an appointment for their 90-year-old father.

“I personally went through just over 100 calls and then I finally got through at about 3:00 p.m. and then I went on hold for just 30 seconds shy of one hour,” said King. “(It was) very frustrating, as you can imagine.”

“We were lucky because we had time yesterday. I feel badly for people that were working and trying to book appointments for their elders as well,” Postill said.

King did eventually get through Monday afternoon and made a vaccine appointment for his dad.

In the Interior Health region, 2,456 people made vaccination appointments on Monday, far more than Vancouver Coastal Health which only registered 369 people for vaccines.

Fraser Health, the only health authority to offer an online booking system, saw the most appointments booked Monday by far.

More than 8,700 vaccine appointments were made in that health authority on day one.

During question period in the Legislature on Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged “there were serious problems everywhere in B.C.”

Read more: Province announces urgent and primary care centre for Penticton

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Dix pledged a province-wide online booking system would be available by mid-April and blamed a contractor for the call centre issues.

“In terms of both technical issues, that affected all health authorities, and staffing issues the contractor…Telus did not meet its contractual obligations and let down people over 90, and let down Indigenous people over 65 and it is unacceptable,” Dix said.

Telus issued a statement apologizing for Monday’s booking challenges.

“We are incredibly sorry for the frustrations that British Columbians have experienced trying to connect to the call centers. We can and will do better, and we are working diligently to make this right,” Telus CEO Darren Entwistle said in a statement.

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All health authorities have a contract with Telus, but Dix said the extremely low booking numbers in Vancouver Coastal Health on Monday were due to that health authority’s complete reliance on Telus.

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Dix said the other four health authorities, including Interior Health, were able to respond to problems with backup call centres.

“Telus has made commitments that these questions will be resolved, the technical questions and the staffing questions, ASAP, but we are not simply counting on that and if they are not resolved other actions will have to be taken,” Dix said.

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More people did get through to book an appointment on Tuesday.

As of 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, Interior Health booked an additional 2,549 appointments, up from over 2,456 the day before.

In Vancouver Coastal Health, 3,103 bookings were made on Tuesday by 5:00 p.m., up from 369 on Monday.

Phone lines are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Details about vaccine booking are available here.

— with files from Richard Zussman

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