As anticipated, demand to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments for Albertans 75 and older was extremely high when bookings opened Wednesday morning.
Alberta Health Services opened its phone lines and online vaccination booking tool for community seniors born in 1946 or earlier at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Within minutes, Albertans began reporting issues with the site crashing or not loading, and a busy signal when calling 811 to book appointments.
Gary Mason, who lives in Okotoks, was born in 1946 and just met the threshold for this round of vaccine eligibility. He went online first thing Wednesday to try to book his appointment.
“I book it and the little wheel spins around and around and all of a sudden a message comes up: ‘Sorry, can’t connect to the server,’” Mason said.
He tried a second and third time, but said those attempts were also unsuccessful.
“It didn’t work though, it just kicked me back out again,” he said. “I figure it was too many people or too much stuff going on for us to get into it.”
Mason tried calling 811 with both his cellphone and home phone, but said that didn’t work either.
“That didn’t work, of course. They just rang busy as soon as I got through. So it is what it is, right?”
Mason said he’s not too worried but will keep trying to set up an appointment.
“I’m not panicked. I’ll get the vaccine whenever. I just thought, ‘Ah well, I’ll see if we can get in on the first day.’ I figured it would be hit and miss.”
In a statement on Twitter, AHs said it was “experiencing very high volumes with the AHS COVID-19 immunization booking tool.”
AHS went on to say that the tool remains live. Those having trouble accessing the site are asked to keep trying.
A statement from AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson issued just before 8:30 a.m. went on to say that several hundred appointments were successfully booked already.
“Traffic is very high on (the) network that leads into the booking system. We urge everyone to be patient,” Williamson said.
By 9:14 a.m., AHS said 4,000 Albertans had successfully booked their appointment. By 9:37 a.m., more than 6,000 appointments had been booked, according to AHS.
“We anticipate Alberta having enough appointments for all seniors age 75 and older early in April,” AHS said on Twitter. “Please be patient as we anticipate high demand for appointments over the next several days. Extra staff is on hand at 811 to manage the added call volumes.”
AHS and local police urged people not to call 911, hospitals or clinics directly to book appointments.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health also took to Twitter to reassure Albertans.
“Our health-care teams are working very hard to make sure that every eligible senior gets immunized as soon as possible. Everyone who is eligible will get their chance,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw tweeted.
“Thank you for being patient as we work to immunize Albertans as safely and quickly as possible.”
Wednesday morning marked the beginning of Phase 1B of Alberta’s vaccine rollout plan. Anyone born in 1946 or earlier is now eligible to be vaccinated.
“Having more vaccine arriving in our province means we can continue protecting our most vulnerable citizens as quickly as possible, starting with those who are most at risk of severe outcomes,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a statement Wednesday morning.
“Immunizing our seniors against COVID-19 is another important step forward in keeping our families, our communities and our health-care system safe.”
On Tuesday, AHS said testing of the site had occurred and it was confident the site is designed to meet the needs of all Albertans that will be booking a COVID-19 vaccine.
Also Tuesday, Global News spoke with a couple of doctors who were worried there would be issues with the rollout.
“There’s no question, in some instances, if the online portal isn’t well designed and able to cope with the large number of inquiries, there is a risk it could crash,” said Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s pandemic response committee.
Seniors 75 and over who wish to be vaccinated will be directed to vaccination clinics closest to where they live. Those with mobility or transportation challenges can call 211 for information on help finding a ride to an appointment.
Vaccination appointments can be booked online or by calling 811.
As of Feb. 22, 180,755 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Alberta. As of the same date, 73,718 Albertans had been fully immunized with two doses of vaccine.
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