Alberta booking site overwhelmed within minutes as vaccinations expanded to more seniors

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Technical woes cast a shadow over Alberta’s first day of general COVID-19 immunization bookings after overwhelming response jammed the province’s vaccine website and phone lines.

Beginning Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., vaccine eligibility expanded to 230,000 seniors born in 1946 or earlier living in the community.

But users trying to book appointments for themselves and their loved ones reported widespread problems on social media, saying they were unable to advance through the booking process.

Alberta Health Services said on Twitter shortly after the booking process went live they were experiencing “very high volumes” on their site, adding they anticipated the high demand.

“The tool remains live,” AHS said. “If you are having trouble accessing the site, please try again shortly.”

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Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw thanked Albertans for their patience while attempting to book.

By 10:07 a.m., more than 8,500 Albertans had booked their appointments, the health authority said. The vaccine appointments included hundreds in the Calgary area for later in the day Wednesday.

The online problems carried over to the Health Link 811 phone line, where many reported having their calls dropped while trying to connect.

AHS said information on pharmacies participating in vaccine rollout would be shared as details become available, saying bookings at pharmacies would be handled through their own system.

The Calgary Police Service advised citizens to dial 911, not 811, for their bookings.

On Tuesday, Hinshaw said Alberta had tested the online system and increased staffing in preparation for the morning’s demand but said hiccups were not unexpected.

“I anticipate that people will need to be patient and keep trying to get into the system whether it’s by phone or by internet,” Hinshaw said.

“We’ve done as much as we can to try to prepare. There will always be some challenges as we roll out an immunization program of this size.”

More to come …

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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