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B.C. gets 1.7 million calls as lines open to book vaccine appointments for elderly

A health-care worker stands in the post vaccine waiting area at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Peel Region during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, March 1, 2021. Call centres will open today across British Columbia to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for some of the province's most elderly residents.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
March 08, 2021 - 3:33 PM

VANCOUVER - Call centres in British Columbia were overwhelmed with 1.7 million calls Monday in less than three hours after lines opened to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for some of the province's oldest residents.

The phone lines opened at 7 a.m. at the Fraser, Island, Interior, Northern and Vancouver Coastal health authorities to make appointments for people 90 years and older and Indigenous people who are over 65 or identify as elders.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said there are only about 47,000 people in the province who are over 90 and about 35,000 who are Indigenous people over 65. A number of people in those groups have already received a shot in care homes, he added.

"I very much appreciate the enthusiasm of everybody calling in. But I would ask that people allow those who are eligible this week to book appointments," he said.

"That is a massive number of phone calls. If that were to continue, obviously no phone system would respond to that."

Dix said health authorities are booking thousands of appointments and plenty of time-slots remain. There are still five days left to book for people in those age groups, so if callers don't get through today, there is still time, he said.

"This is not first-come, first-serve," he said. "There are going to be lots of opportunities."

The province began its age-based vaccination program Monday with a focus on call centres because of the advanced age of those who are eligible. Those who book their appointments this week are expected to get the shot next week.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking system on the first day. Web-based platforms across health regions will become a larger component of booking as younger age categories get their turn, Dix said.

He added the "enormous" response reflects the significant support for vaccination in the province.

Some residents calling on behalf of their elderly parents spent all morning trying to get through on the phone lines.

Elaine Husdon, whose father is 95, said she called the Fraser Health number when the line opened at 7 a.m., "exactly on the dot," and received a busy signal.

She said she has been redialing constantly and can't even get on hold — she either gets a busy signal or a recording that says there is a high call volume that instructs her to hang up and try again.

Husdon said her father lives with her family and she decided to take a leave of absence from her job at a school because of the risk of contracting the virus and bringing it home to him.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, also said she only received a busy signal every time she has called. She said she spent two hours between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. constantly pressing redial.

Tapley said she wishes that the health authority had set up an online booking system from the beginning, as Fraser Health did.

"I feel a bit frustrated because I know it's very important to my dad to get (the vaccine)," she said, adding her parents have had a lonely year during the pandemic.

"I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that they can return to their normal lives."

Health authorities announced dozens of sites Sunday where residents will go to receive their vaccine.

People born in 1936 or earlier can start calling for appointments on March 15 and those born in 1941 or earlier can start to schedule their vaccine appointments March 22.

The province's plan aims to have all people in the province 80 years and older and Indigenous people 65 and older receiving one shot of COVID-19 vaccine by April 12.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2021
The Canadian Press

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