Ontario Residents Report Problems Booking COVID-19 Booster Shot Appointment

Technical issues left some Ontarians eager for COVID-19 boosters unable to book shots under expanded eligibility Monday, amid a fast-rising wave of Omicron infections.

The province’s expert pandemic advisers estimate the new Omicron variant now makes up 21 percent of Ontario’s new cases, just weeks after the first cases were detected.

Cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant are doubling every three days, the group said.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the “intermittent technical issue” with the provincial booking portal that came up amid “high volumes of demand” was resolved as of 12:45 p.m., nearly five hours after the expanded bookings opened.

Alexandra Hilkene said thousands of appointments had been booked by late morning after 3.4 million people between the ages of 50 and 69 became eligible for third shots.

People can also book through the provincial phone line, at pharmacies and some primary care sites and through public health units using their own systems.

Many social media users complained of issues with the system. Some said they waited online to enter the portal but gave up after dealing with crashes and error messages.

“Gave up after two hours trying to book third vaccine (booster) on the Ontario portal,” one person wrote on Twitter. “SO FRUSTRATING.”

The province has said it’s expanding booster dose eligibility to fight against the Omicron variant and plans to offer the third shots to all adults in the new year.

Hilkene said in a separate statement that the Health Ministry is working with local public health units to ramp up vaccination capacity as more information comes to light about the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

“This will allow us to continue to administer first and second doses, as well as booster doses, as quickly as possible,” she said.

Signs of the variant’s rapid growth since it was first detected in Ontario two weeks ago have led to calls for faster access to boosters for all residents.

But experts told The Canadian Press this week that the variant is likely spreading so quickly that an accelerated timeline for boosters won’t get ahead of, or stop, the wave of infections that’s coming, as essentially everyone may be exposed to the variant.

Infectious diseases physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti with the University of Toronto said prioritizing the most vulnerable, including older people, front-line essential workers, those with underlying conditions and their immediate household members is the right approach to boosters.

With an Omicron wave on the horizon, he said public health capacity for boosters, tests and case management will need to be targeted at areas of greatest need because old pandemic measures — including lockdowns and other restrictions — won’t be as effective against it.

“Omicron is going to be barrelling through here like a freight train,” Chakrabarti said.

“We have to be honest with ourselves. Do we really have a lot of control over what’s about to happen, in terms of this wave washing over us? The answer is, I don’t think so. I do think that this is going to happen whatever we do because it’s just so transmissible.”

He noted, however, that Canada’s relatively high vaccination rate will protect many from the worst outcomes at this stage of the pandemic.

“Even though there will still be sickness and death unfortunately with this wave coming, we have to remember that this is now on a population that has some sort of immunity,” he said.

“It’s very different (than) if this wave were to come on a completely susceptible population.”

Chakrabarti and other experts and public health leaders say they expect testing and contact tracing resources will be maxed out during the coming Omicron wave, based on what’s been seen in other jurisdictions.

In that event, he said it would make sense for tests to prioritize high-risk settings like long-term care homes and workers, hospitals and essential workplaces in order to minimize hospitalizations from the growing caseload.

If people who have symptoms and were likely exposed can’t access tests, he said common sense advice that they stay home from work, school and other gatherings until feeling better is a reasonable alternative to tests that can be saved for high-risk people and settings.

In the Kingston, Ont., area, where community spread of Omicron was already confirmed, public health called on people on Monday to take precautions amid the region’s highest collective case count during the pandemic.

A news release from the health unit said Kingston Health Sciences Centre had the highest number of intensive care COVID-19 patients in the province.

It said the workload was “challenging KHSC’s ability to respond to the regular and ongoing urgent and emergency needs of the community,” resulting in critically ill patient transfers, and warned the situation could get worse with Omicron circulating.

“To ease the burden on the local health care system and ensure the community can continue to seek emergency and time-sensitive care, we are sincerely and urgently asking for your help,” the news release said. It asked people to monitor for symptoms, stay home when sick, reduce social contact and get vaccinated or get boosters if eligible.

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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