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Booking system overwhelmed as Middlesex-London expands COVID-19 vaccines to seniors 75+

People lined up outside the Western Fair Agriplex waiting to get a their COVID-19 vaccine in March 2021. Sawyer Bogdan /Global News

The COVID-19 vaccine appointment booking system was overwhelmed Monday morning as eligibility in Middlesex-London expanded to those 75-79 in the region, echoing the experiences of the initial launch of the system to those 80 and older.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit said shortly after 10 a.m. that it “experienced challenges” with the booking system, but that it has “addressed the issues and will continue to monitor the booking system closely.”

Read more: COVID-19: 31 cases in London-Middlesex; residents 75-79 vaccine eligible as of Monday: MLHU

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie says there were over 30,000 hits to the website within the first half hour that appointments became available and a “flood of activity” on the phone lines.

He says “several thousand” appointments were booked but the website quickly ground to a halt due to the volume.

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“We were able to tweak the website so that it gave people a wait time,” he explained.

Mackie also warned that because the North London Optimist Community Centre is at the bottom of the list of clinic locations, it’s possible that if people don’t scroll down all the way they may miss it.

The MLHU added that it encourages people to book online rather than over the phone when possible.

A spokesperson told Global News that a message has been added to the phone lines to explain that call volumes are high, however, if call volumes are too high it can actually overwhelm the system and force an automated message to play that erroneously states the line is not in service.

Read more: Ontario ahead of schedule, to begin COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors aged 75+ Monday

Last week, the health unit confirmed that local residents aged 75 to 79 would be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting March 22.

Health officials said the expanded vaccination eligibility includes those who are not yet 75, but who are turning 75 this year.

Officials also stress that everyone who was already eligible to get the vaccine will remain eligible.

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When appointments for those 80 and older opened up on March 2, two weeks worth of appointments were booked within roughly two hours.

Within that time frame, the online system saw nearly 30,000 hits and had “no significant outages,” however, the phone system saw over 200,000 phone calls and experienced outage issues, officials said at the time.

Read more: How does London’s COVID-19 vaccine booking system compare to other regions?

Late the following day, the MLHU announced that it was making an additional 6,900 vaccination appointments available between March 4 and March 18.

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Appointments can be booked online at covidvaccinelm.ca or over the phone at 226-289-3560 (9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.). Online appointments are encouraged due to high expected call volume.

— with files from Global News’ Matthew Trevithick.

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