COVID-19 vaccines: Ottawa moves to fix issues arising from Ontario booking system

Information how to book the second shot for the COVID-19 vaccine at the Invista Centre in Kingston, Ont., on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Crowds, confusion and contingency plans have marked the opening of two new COVID-19 vaccination sites in Ottawa on Tuesday as the city rushes to mitigate issues arising from Ontario’s centralized vaccine booking system.

Problems first arose last Friday when the city’s vaccination team indicated appointment slots for vaccinations were being double booked at the city hall and Eva James Memorial Community Centre facilities, which first opened to the public on Tuesday.

The double bookings affected slots from Tuesday through Thursday this week. The city said that because it does not have access to the provincial system, the mistake wasn’t caught until it was too late.

Residents were told at the time to wait for a call or email with instructions from the province on rebooking their appointments, but the city said Tuesday that anyone with a booking should proceed to the clinic nonetheless.

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But the number of residents showing up with bookings at the Eva James site on Tuesday overwhelmed the site’s capacity, so the city has set up a shuttle service to take the overflow of vaccine hopefuls from Kanata centre to other clinics in the city.

Residents still have to proceed to the Eva James site if that’s where they booked their original appointment first but need not take the shuttle itself to their replacement appointment, wherever that ends up being.

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The city has set up a temporary vaccination site at the Francois Dupuis Recreation Centre in Orleans and expanded capacity at the existing Nepean Sportsplex to accommodate.

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Anthony Di Monte, the head of Ottawa’s vaccine distribution task force, and Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health, said in a memo Tuesday that the situation is not ideal, especially for seniors.

They said in the memo that they’re working with the province to mitigate issues arising with vaccine bookings, which appear to include problems booking new appointments.

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Ontario South MPP John Fraser said in a letter to Ontario’s premier and Minister of Health on Tuesday that he has heard from constituents who have had their second vaccination appointments cancelled without explanation. He said residents were told to call the province’s centralized booking line but were informed no appointment slots were available and to call back in a few days.

He went on to say that others are reporting being unable to progress through the online portal to book new appointments because second-dose slots are unavailable.

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Etches and Di Monte said in their memo that the city is “aware of ongoing province-wide issues with the provincial booking system” but did not provide specifics. They said the province is working to fix the issues as quickly as possible.

Asked about troubles with the provincial booking system on Tuesday afternoon, Ret. Gen. Rick Hillier, head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, said staff were aware of technical issues and said the booking problems would be resolved by the end of the day.

A spokesperson with the City of Ottawa said earlier in the day that vaccine clinics were also experiencing crowding as residents arrived early to wait for their appointments.

The city is asking all residents to arrive or wait in their cars until 10 minutes before their scheduled shot before proceeding to the clinic.

Among those vaccinated at Ottawa City Hall on the first day of jabs at the site was Joe Clark, Canada’s 16th prime minister, according to a tweet from Mayor Jim Watson.

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