Many people reported not being able to get through, or getting disconnected after making it through the booking process.

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Of the 1.7 million calls that clogged B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination booking phone lines on the first day, more than 100 of them belonged to Vancouver resident Kanchan Dhugga who spent Monday desperately trying to get an appointment for her elderly grandparents.

It was an anxiety-inducing and exhausting experience shared by thousands of people who faced busy signals, dropped calls and long waiting times as health authority call centres became overwhelmed Monday.

Approximately 15,000 people did get appointments Monday, some being offered the vaccine that same day or later this week. More than half of the bookings — 8,722 — were in the Fraser Health region which is the only health authority that allows people to book appointments online. Significant problems in the Vancouver Coastal Health area caused the system to crash for most of the day resulting in only 369 appointments booked, Health Minister Adrian Dix wrote on Twitter Monday night. Dix said health officials will work with Vancouver Coastal Health on Tuesday to get the booking system back on track.


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In the Interior Health region, 2,456 people booked appointments Monday, while 2,395 people got through in Island Health and 1007 successful bookings in the Northern Health Authority.

Dhugga is frustrated that the call centres weren’t prepared with more staff to handle the volume of calls.

“They had many months to prepare for this.”

Only people age 90 and older and Indigenous people age 65 and older are eligible to book appointments this week. About 20,000 of the 47,000 British Columbians 90 and older have already received their vaccines in long-term care homes and about 8,000 of the 35,000 Indigenous people over 65 have received their jabs, which leaves about 54,000 people who were eligible to call starting Monday, said Dix.

The “enormous” call volume indicates people outside those age categories might be calling before it’s their turn, he said. Dix urged those who are not yet eligible, or who are not calling on behalf of someone eligible, to put down the phone.

“That is a massive number of phone calls,” he told a news conference Monday. “If that were to continue, no phone system would respond to that.”

Dhugga began calling the Vancouver Coastal Health at 6:59 a.m. — a minute before the lines opened at 7 a.m. — on behalf of her 91-year-old grandmother Bakshish and 94-year-old grandfather Mohinder

She either received a busy signal or a message telling her to call back later. A few times, she got through and was excited to be on hold but each time, the call was dropped. She was unable to book an appointment Monday and will try again first thing Tuesday morning.

Bakshish and Mohinder live independently and, other than grocery drop-offs at the door, have not been able to see their family for more than a year, Dhugga said. They have not been able to meet Dhugga’s daughter who was born in February. For them, the vaccine represents hope, she said.

“This whole time since the pandemic hit, we’ve been told to be patient and we have. We’ve all done the right things,” Dhugga said. “But when the very systems put in place to help you are acting as barriers, it’s very upsetting.”

Dhugga questioned why each health authority doesn’t have an online booking option. Her cousin who lives in the Fraser Health region booked appointments for both her grandparents without issue.

One Vancouver woman booking for her 97-year-old husband said after six hours of calls and busy signals, she finally got through around 1 p.m. She was then on hold for three hours only to have the call dropped.


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The provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said she would have liked an online booking system for all health authorities ready weeks ago but Fraser Health was the only region with an online system “robust” enough to go live this week.

Henry said Telus, the call centre contractor, must step up to solve some of the technical challenges.

Henry reminded people to be patient. “Calling this week if you’re outside of these first age groups will not speed up your turn, but it may cause more delays for people trying to get appointments for their loved ones or for themselves who are in this first phase,” she said.

Dix defended the roll out, but acknowledged that the province and Telus must do better. He said more call centre staff will be added in the coming weeks as bookings open up to more people in five-year increments. The government plans to expand online bookings starting April 12, Dix said.

Telus said in a statement the company is partnering with the government “to train representatives and scale the call centres as quickly as possible so that more British Columbians can book their vaccine appointments as they become eligible.”

Starting March 15, people age 85 and above or born in 1936 and earlier can begin calling and starting March 22, bookings open to people age 80 and above or born in 1941 or earlier. Once people are eligible to book, they can book anytime after their start date.

A bright side of the large call volumes, Dix said, is that “it reflects the very significant support for immunization in the province.”


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Dix stressed that the vaccine booking system is not first come, first served and that everyone who wants the vaccine will get one.

“There are lots of appointments,” he said. “They’re not going to run out.”

Badrinath Narayan is one of the lucky ones.

The Surrey resident logged in right at 7 a.m. and was able to book an appointment for his 94-year-old grandmother, Swarnambal (Seetha) Krishnamoorthy, through the Fraser Health online booking site for later in the day, earlier than the expected March 15 start date.

“I was happy with the process,” he said.

However, Narayan noted that 15 minutes later, the website started having difficulty loading and was redirecting users to an error message.

Island Health spokesman Andrew Leyne told Postmedia News the health authority contracted 35 Telus phone agents to assist 10 to 15 Island Health phone agents to answer booking calls. No figures were provided for other health authorities.

with files from Gordon Hoekstra

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