TORONTO — Nearly 100,000 Ontarians aged 80 and older booked their COVID-19 vaccine appointments Monday despite technical issues with the online portal and long wait times to get through to the call centre.
The online booking system – http://www.ontario.ca/bookvaccine – and call centre – 1-888-999-6488 – went live at 8 a.m., and more than 8,000 people were in the queue a few minutes later, with an estimated wait time of about an hour.
Some users reported seeing error messages after filling out the website’s vaccine booking forms.
Eric Weichel logged onto the site at 9 a.m. from his home in North Bay, Ont., as did his mother in Parry Sound, Ont., and a friend who tried from a cell phone in Guelph, Ont. They were all trying to get an appointment for Weichel’s 85-year-old grandmother, Hazel Wager.
After getting into the queue and filling out basic information like date of birth and postal code, all three kept getting the same message – a blank screen with just the words “form has been tampered with.”
Weichel said his mother then tried the phone number, but gave up after nine attempts to get through. He said he finally was able to book an appointment through the website at 3 p.m., six hours after he started.
His grandmother has her first shot scheduled for next Monday in Parry Sound, Ont., and her second shot appointment in July.
“I’m so excited to hug her after she gets her vaccine,” Weichel said in a phone interview.
Premier Doug Ford said any “bumps in the road, or wrinkles in the system” would be taken care of immediately.
“I’m just very grateful that the system never crashed,” he told a news conference. “That’s what I’m shocked about, actually.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said the technical issue some users had encountered had been resolved by 4:30 p.m..
Several health units also reported issues with the new system, saying they were working with the province to address the problems.
“Please do not attempt to book an appointment at this time,” the Grey Bruce Health Unit in southern Ontario told local residents just hours after the booking system went live. It said system issues had resulted in booking errors.
The Simcoe-Muskoka Health Unit said some people were encountering error messages that indicated no local appointments were available through the booking site for its region. It said the province had not finished inputting all of its clinics and was hoping to resolve the issue later Monday.
Some of those who were successful in their attempts to book an appointment shared their excitement on social media.
“My in-laws (with the help of their doting son) both got COVID-19 vaccine appointments for next Tuesday at City Hall. I can’t believe how happy and relieved I am,” one Ottawa resident said on Twitter.
Some of Ontario’s 34 public health units have already established their own systems for booking vaccination appointments, but the provincial portal will either enhance or replace those setups in many areas.
The province reported Monday that a total of 1,191,553 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given out in Ontario so far.
But even as the vaccination drive ramps up, some regions of the province are still dealing with a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
The Ontario Hospital Association said Monday that the province is now in a third wave of infections, citing data from a science advisory group that shows virus variant cases increasing and the number of patients in intensive care trending up.
“Strong adherence to public health measures is urgently needed to prevent overwhelming hospitals,” the hospital group said on Twitter.
But the province’s top doctor said Ontario “could be going into” a third wave but the extent of it is still developing.
“You can always tell you’re in it after it’s over,” Dr. David Williams said. “I would say we are into that base of a third wave. What does that mean, how big it is, that’s to be determined.”
Sarnia-Lambton moved into the “grey lockdown” stage of the province’s colour-coded pandemic response framework on Monday following a spike in local infections.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley wrote to Ford Monday, asking that in future, any region moved into lockdown by the province should be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Meanwhile, Ford confirmed Monday that the head of Ontario’s vaccine task force, retired general Rick Hillier, will be leaving the job when his contract expires on March 31.
Ontario reported 1,268 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and nine more deaths linked to the virus.
— With files from Liam Casey and Holly McKenzie-Sutter