On Saturday, thousands of people swarmed a Toronto hospital’s website that was believed to be offering leftover vaccines at the end of each day to anyone between the ages of sixteen and 59 years old at four designated immunization clinics.
“To be on the Standby List, you need to be able to get an East Toronto Vaccine Clinic within 30 minutes,” said the East Toronto Health Partners website above a form that needed to be filled out to be on the ‘standby list.’
The website received so many visitors, it crashed.
And a day later, that same site was completely taken down.
“We received over 60,000 submissions in approximately 30 hours,” said Wolf Klassen with Michael Garron Hospital. “At this time, we are no longer accepting names for our standby list.”
Klassen said there are leftover doses on some days, most commonly occurring because people don’t show up for a booked appointment — and adds it has been ‘challenging’ to find eligible people each day to take those leftover doses on short notice.
“Given the strict storage requirements of the COVID-19 vaccines, a dose needs to be used within a few hours.”
That’s why Michael Garron Hospital opened up an online form Friday, but the phrasing of the eligibility requirements confused many people — appearing to be open to anyone within the 16 to 59-year-old age range, regardless of health conditions or occupation.
“I was confused,” said palliative care physician and health justice activist, Dr. Naheed Dosani. “It’s scenarios like this that get me wondering about the way vaccine distribution and the rollout plan is being communicated to the public.”
The hospital then adds it changed the eligibility requirements later on Saturday to align with the province’s — prioritizing anyone who is part of Ontario’s Phase 2 vaccination plan set to begin sometime in April.
People who filled the form and fit the criteria within the upcoming Phase 2 would receive the leftover vaccines at the end of the day over anyone who is part of Phase 3 and beyond.
“I think the question is how to efficiently use leftover vaccines at the end of the day if there are no booked appointments and this is something I would’ve hoped would’ve been planned for,” said Dosani — who points out that standby lists are a much more common practice in the United States.
“If it hasn’t been planned for, we need to think about how to do this piece in an equitable way as well.”
Infectious diseases physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the ‘standby lists’ need to start becoming common practice at clinics around the province, as long as priority populations are higher up on the list.
“This is a fantastic idea, if there’s a vaccine available at the end of the day and there are empty slots, you can’t let that go unfilled and I think that it’s totally reasonable to fill those slots as quickly as possible,” he said.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health said it’s up to individual vaccine clinics on how they’re developing their standby lists for end-of-day leftover doses.
“Public health units and vaccination clinics have been directed to implement processes to fill last-minute cancellations, “no-shows” and end-of-day remaining doses with people who are identified in the Phase One priority populations,” said Ministry of Health spokesperson, Alexandra Hilkene.
She adds that Phase 2 populations will be prioritized on the standby lists in the ‘coming weeks.’
The Ministry of Health also said East Toronto Health Partners’ standby list was completely with provincial priorities in mind.
“For example, if at the end of the day they have a dose left over, they must make every effort to give it to someone aged 70 or over or another priority population like a frontline health care worker,” said Hilkene.