Johnston, turning 72 next week, lives in a Lowertown high-rise with her 80-year-old husband. She had sections of her lung removed because of an aggressive cancer, and helps care for her five-year-old granddaughter, whose mother is an elementary school teacher and father is immunocompromised. All that to say, she’s hoping to get vaccinated “sooner rather than later.”
And so, after reading news about vaccines being made available for those in her age bracket, she made a call to the provincial vaccine booking line. After providing all of her information, she was told there were no slots available, and to call back again in a couple of days. That was her plan, until she received an email from the ministry of health, inviting her to book a vaccine. The closest she got was the offer of an appointment in Brockville at the end of next month.
“This is crazy, they have to open things up in this area,” she reasoned at the time, opting instead to continue to try for a local booking. Time spent searching for appointments through the province’s online system has proven fruitless. So too have more phone calls — to the province, which takes bookings for all of those 70 and over in select health units, and to Ottawa Public Health, which is booking appointments at pop-up clinics for those 70 and older in high-risk areas of the city (including Johnston’s Lowertown neighbourhood.)
“No slots available, call back, we don’t take the information and put you on a waiting list, it’s up to you to call us back. And there’s no definitive — they can’t tell you when the vaccine will be in, so it’s up to you just to keep calling and checking,” said Johnston, summing up what she’s heard over the last two days.
“It’s extremely frustrating. When the politicians and when the health people are saying … We really want to get you vaccinated fast, and it’s important that we do this before the variant hits.”
The city, meanwhile, has said that with a limited supply of vaccine available, all community clinic appointments have been booked until April 7. More appointments will become available in the coming days, they said, as the city receives more vaccines from the province and the provincial booking system is updated. Ottawans were told to stay tuned, for more updates.
Johnston is far from the only Ottawan in the 70-plus age group to be frustrated by the vaccine booking process. This newspaper was contacted by a number of them, thwarted in their attempts to secure a shot, without clarity about when they will be able do so.
Ellen Wright only found out by reading the Citizen late Monday afternoon that she had been eligible, for hours, to book an appointment. When she got through to the province via phone call, she was told there were no slots available, though there may be some cancellations, so she should call back and check.
“Wouldn’t it be more efficient if you had a waitlist?” she questioned.
Joel Harden, Ottawa Centre MPP, said he thinks it’s a feasible request.
“It is safe to say that in two and a half years of parliamentary work, I have not seen an outpouring of frustration quite like this,” said Harden in a Tuesday interview, when asked what he’s been hearing from constituents about vaccine appointment-booking.
“And while most people are very quick — because Ottawans are very compassionate people — to acknowledge that we’re living in a uniquely difficult time, people do not understand why they can’t make an appointment before April 7, why they have to wait for hours on the phone,” he said.
Harden wants to see more investment in provincial call centre infrastructure, as well as more vaccine supply in Ottawa.
He released a statement Tuesday calling for the premier to ensure Ottawa receives “its fair share,” pointing out that the city has only received 5.7 per cent of the province’s vaccines while accounting for about seven per cent of its population, and being one of its COVID-19 hot spots.
This content was originally published here.