There were reports of long waits and technical glitches as Ontario widened vaccine eligibility for more than 100 COVID-19 hot spots on Monday, but the province’s health minister said the government was “pleased” that thousands were able to book an appointment to get their first dose.
More than 130,000 appointments were booked by early afternoon after the province expanded eligibility to include anyone 18 or older in 114 designated areas Monday morning, the government said.
The province’s online booking system “held up” during the surge of interest, Elliott said as she urged people who had technical issues to try to book again.
The Ontario government says an increase in the supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has allowed them to expand booking eligibility.
“With additional supply, our government is increasing access to the COVID-19 vaccines in the communities hardest hit by COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health in a news release Sunday.
People will be able to book their appointment either through the provincial booking system or through municipal public health units that use their own system. Some public health units may not make the age changes right away depending on their own vaccine supply.
The vaccines will be administered at mass immunization clinics, the province said.
The government has identified 114 communities as priority areas for vaccines — and the province says they want to allocate around 50 percent of vaccines to those areas during the weeks of May 3 and 10.
“You will get an appointment, but I am sorry about the problems people are having now,” Elliott told reporters.
Some social media users said they logged on early in the day but still came up empty, as the provincial site showed tens of thousands of users in the queue minutes after bookings opened.
Others reported technical errors with the site itself.
Hot spot postal codes
Durham Region Health Department – L1S, L1T, L1V, L1X, L1Z
Halton Region Public Health – L9E
City of Hamilton Public Health Services – L8W, L9C
Niagara Region Public Health – L2G
Ottawa Public Health – K1T, K1V, K2V
Peel Public Health – L4T, L4W, L4X, L4Z, L5A, L5B, L5C, L5K, L5L, L5M, L5N, L5R, L5V, L5W, L6P, L6R, L6S, L6T, L6V, L6W, L6X, L6Y, L6Z, L7A, L7C
Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit – L3Z
Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services – N2C
Wellington-Dufferin Guelph Public Health – N1K
Windsor-Essex County Health Unit – N8H, N8X, N8Y, N9A, N9B, N9C, N9Y
York Region Public Health – L0J, L3S, L3T, L4B, L4E, L4H, L4J, L4K, L4L, L6A, L6B, L6C, L6E
Toronto Public Health – M1B, M1C, M1E, M1G, M1H, M1J, M1K, M1L, M1M, M1P, M1R, M1S, M1T, M1V, M1W, M1X, M2J, M2M, M2R, M3A, M3C, M3H, M3J, M3K, M3L, M3M, M3N, M4A, M4H, M4X, M5A, M5B, M5N, M5V, M6A, M6B, M6E, M6H, M6K, M6L, M6M, M6N, M8V, M9A, M9B, M9C, M9L, M9M, M9N, M9P, M9R, M9V, M9W
Southwestern Public Health – N5H
Jessica Mazze, 20, was eager to book a shot after spending weeks checking community clinics for vaccine availability in her Toronto neighbourhood.
The Ryerson University student was expecting the provincial site to be busy but was frustrated when she was unable to book online because the postal code on her health card doesn’t match her current residence.
Multiple calls to the provincial phone line eventually got her an appointment for the end of the month, leaving Mazze relieved but disappointed with the technical issues.
“Thankfully, end of the day, I got the appointment. But I was just extremely frustrated with the whole process,” she said by phone.
Eligibility will expand further on Thursday when online bookings open up to residents 50 and older, the province said.
Others captured in that expansion include people with high-risk health conditions, those who can’t work from home including teachers and school workers and First Nation, Inuit and Metis people not previously targeted in earlier phases of the immunization drive.
Thursday’s planned expansion to those with high-risk health conditions includes those living with obesity, developmental disabilities and treatments requiring immunosuppression among others.
All adults in hot spots have been cleared for immunization for some time, though they could not book through the provincial website. Instead, residents have been getting shots at pop-up and mobile clinics, sometimes standing in line for hours.
Ontario said it will return to per capita distribution for vaccines on the week of May 17.
If supply holds, the province expects to make those 18 and older eligible for a shot at mass sites provincewide on the week of May 24.