Problems with the provincial booking system were responsible for delays and confusion at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic held on Wednesday, April 7, at the Robert Hartley Sports Complex in Hawkesbury.

Many people were lined up for more than one hour that morning waiting for their vaccinations. At one point, the line extended from the complex, past the OPP station, and along Cartier Boulevard.

Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) Medical Officer Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said some people were omitted on the list of patients who had appointments. The system had booked some people every two minutes instead of every 10 minutes. As well, many people showed up for their appointments one hour too early because the booking system had not automatically adjusted to the change to Daylight Savings Time.

Ché Weist of Ottawa was one of the people waiting in line. Her husband’s vaccination appointment was supposed to be at 10:34 a.m. but he was not called into the building until 11:30. Weist said she was concerned about the well-being of the elderly people who were waiting.

By 11:40 a.m., the line was moving much more quickly. A man who was near the front of the line outside the complex entrance said he only waited for 15 minutes.

EOHU staff did their absolute best despite the issues, Roumeliotis noted, vaccinating everyone in line, regardless of the booking issues.

“Our team did not refuse anybody.  They did them all,” said Roumeliotis.

Approximately 16 people work at each vaccination clinic, including those looking after registrations and the people doing the vaccinating. Those issuing the vaccinations are all EOHU employees, or other medical professionals who have offered their services.

The EOHU’s medical officer explained that consideration had been given to creating a booking system for just the EOHU, but the provincial government was insistent upon creating a single system.

“The Premier himself requested it,” Roumeliotis said.

The EOHU has contacted the Ministry of Health about the problems with the booking system.  Roumeliotis pointed out that until the April 7 issues at the clinic in Hawkesbury, the health unit had received overwhelmingly positive comments about the local vaccination clinics.

There have been some other issues with the provincial vaccination booking system in relation to Eastern Ontario. The EOHU operated 37 vaccination clinics between March 17 and April 9.  According to Roumeliotis, EOHU personnel uploaded all of them to the provincial system but not all appeared as available to people trying to make appointments. The glitch led to some people from the region travelling to other communities to be vaccinated.

A number of the people lined up at the April 7 clinic in Hawkesbury were from Ottawa, or other communities outside the EOHU’s jurisdiction. Roumeliotis explained that since COVID-19 vaccination is a provincial program, people cannot be refused a vaccination, no matter where they live. He said people travelling to the EOHU’s clinics rather than other health unit regions for vaccinations will not affect the supply of vaccines being allocated to the EOHU.

In Eastern Ontario, most of the doses received thus far have been Pfizer, but increased deliveries of the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are expected.  The Astra-Zeneca vaccine is being provided in selected pharmacies.

Challenges and the future

Roumeliotis acknowledged there is misinformation about the pandemic circulating across the region. “We don’t want to feed into that,” he said.

The EOHU medical officer said his approach will remain cautious and transparent, especially when facts surrounding COVID-19 change. He said staff with the health unit continue to face verbal abuse and harassment when contacting people to trace exposure to COVID-19.

“Don’t take it out on the staff,” Roumeliotis said.

As for the current shutdown and stay-at-home order in effect across Ontario, Roumeliotis hopes it will be the last of its kind. With the majority of cases made up by the more serious COVID-19 variants, he suspects case numbers will continue to increase before they begin to subside.  The next four weeks are crucial to the short-term course of the pandemic, Roumeliotis said, although he is optimistic about the pandemic’s long-term outcome.

“We’re going to vaccinate a lot of people,” he said.

It is estimated that 75,000 people across the EOHU’s jurisdiction will be vaccinated against COVID-19 during the next four weeks. Roumeliotis is expecting so-called ‘herd immunity’ – where most people are protected against COVID-19 – to be reached by the fall, followed by a progressive reduction of the restrictions which have come to characterize life for more than a year.

“The closer we get to Christmas, the better it will be,” Roumeliotis said.