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Vaccine call centre provider ‘needs to step up’ amid first-day booking bottlenecks

Online vaccine booking only available in one of B.C.’s health regions
Simonkr/Getty Images

B.C.’s top doctor is urging organizations across the province to “step up” after the first day of booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments was greeted with significant bottlenecks.

“We need to be aware that this is quite a large project in terms of developing a seamless online and phone system,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a Monday media briefing, adding she would have preferred to have seen the system up weeks ago.

“But I will say that the … call centre provider that has been charged with working on this needs to step up as well as the health authorities.”

Call centres across the province received about 1.7 million calls within the first three hours of the lines opening up Monday at 7 a.m.

About 82,000 British Columbians are currently eligible to book — 47,000 people 90 years old or above, and 35,000 Indigenous people 65 years or older — while 26,000 people in those eligible groups have already received at least one dose.

“While I’m grateful to see the enthusiasm that we have, we ask everyone who’s outside of the age groups for this week to please be patient and wait your turn,” Henry said.

“Calling this week if you’re outside [the eligible age groups] will not speed up your turn but it may cause more delays for people trying to get appointments for their loved ones.”

Fraser Health is the only health authority providing online bookings.

Health Minister Adrian Dix revealed about 10,000 British Columbians were able to book their appointments by about 3 p.m. Monday, with a “significant amount” of those bookings coming through the Fraser Health authority’s online booking platform.

Dix said earlier in the day a province-wide online booking platform will be ready to launch April 12 as the province begins vaccinating the broader population in the coming weeks.

Details on the province’s booking platform remain sparse and provincial officials said one week ago more information would be made available in the coming weeks.

For now, the vast majority of eligible British Columbians must make their bookings through dedicated call centres for the province’s five local health authorities.

Family members are able to book on behalf of seniors who may not feel comfortable scheduling their vaccinations on their own.

Booking eligibility will expand to those 85 years and older by March 15, and 80 years and older by March 22.

Vaccinations for elderly British Columbians begin March 29 as the province continues to prioritize vulnerable groups and frontline health-care workers for vaccinations over the next three weeks.

Meanwhile, 333,327 doses have been administered in B.C. — up from the 311,208 doses administered as of Friday.

Last week B.C. began delaying the interval between doses from six weeks to 16 weeks in a bid to immunize more people over a shorter period of time, albeit with lower initial levels of protection.

With significantly more doses due to arrive on the West Coast, Henry also urged British Columbians to remain patient about the prospect of getting vaccinated.

She said she expects the first AstraZeneca plc doses from the Serum Institute of India to arrive “in the next day or two.”

AstraZeneca struck a deal with the Serum Institute that would allow its vaccine to be produced outside the company’s facilities.

While the first 500,000 of the AstraZeneca doses will come from the Serum Institute, facilities in the U.S. are expected to be the primary source of AstraZeneca doses for Canada.

It’s not yet clear when those vaccine doses will arrive from the U.S.

The federal government is also awaiting more details from Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) about doses due to be delivered to Canada after regulators approved the single-dose vaccine Friday.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said last week the new vaccine would begin arriving sometime in the second quarter.

Canada has an initial order in for 10 million doses to be delivered by September, with the option of ordering 28 million additional doses.

Federal officials are expected to provide an update on Canada’s vaccine rollout early Tuesday.

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