One of the people overseeing Nova Scotia's vaccine rollout says changes are being made to speed up booking so the province can meet its estimated target of offering the first dose to people 16 and up by the middle of June.
Tracey Barbrick, the associate deputy minister responsible for the COVID-19 immunization strategy, said the province is making it easier for Nova Scotians to book an appointment by phone by increasing capacity to 50 call lines from 30.
Another call centre is also on its way, she said.
"We will be doubling capacity as we move into April and our supply increases," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Wednesday.
Changes have also been made to how people book appointments online after the province's website was flooded with visitors in early March and had to shut down for several hours.
"The other thing we've done online is create a virtual waiting room so that there's a number of people that are taken into the waiting room, and when a booking option opens up, they're allowed in to book. So that's increasing over time as well so that flow is a little bit more smooth," Barbrick said.
On Tuesday, the province released approximate dates for when each age group will get a first dose, if vaccine deliveries arrive as scheduled.
Beginning on March 29 with those aged 75 to 79, vaccine eligibility will be opened to people in five-year age brackets in descending order, approximately one week apart.
The pace is expected to ramp up slightly by the time those under 40 become eligible in mid-May. The five-year cohorts continue until those aged 16 to 19 become eligible in the second week of June.
Most people able to book quickly, says Strang
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, acknowledged there have been challenges with booking appointments, especially online.
He said a team is working to fix any glitches, but he added that some of the delays are due to the limited supply of vaccines, which will increase in the coming weeks.
"There are certainly a small number of people who are having challenges," Strang said, "but the vast majority of people — we're hearing people coming to our clinics — people saying they booked within three, five minutes."
According to Barbrick, 65,000 people in Phase 1, which includes Nova Scotians 80 and up, have booked successfully in a combination of the online portal and by phone.
WATCH Dr. Robert Strang explains how vaccine rollout will ramp up:
About 80 per cent of people are booking online and 20 per cent over the phone, "which is much higher than we expected for this age group and we expect that that will continue as we work down through the ages," she said.
The province's rollout estimates are based on when vaccine deliveries are expected to arrive in Nova Scotia from the federal government.
"We can only tell you for certain how much vaccine we're going to get for the next two weeks, and then beyond that, it's still relying on the federal government and their procurement process," he said.
Questions about AstraZeneca vaccine
On Tuesday, in the wake of concerns about AstraZeneca's clinical trial results, Health Canada said Canadians should not be concerned about the safety of the U.K.-made vaccine.
U.S. health officials found outdated information may have been reported by the company earlier this week. That news came in the wake of reports of blood clots in a very small number of patients who received the vaccine.
Strang said it's a very rare complication and that Nova Scotians should feel at ease knowing that "we have a very good safety system in place."
"All of the regulatory bodies around the world are saying that the benefit of using the AstraZeneca product far outweighs any potential risk of these rare complications," he said.
Based on polling, 70 to 80 per cent of Nova Scotians who are eligible for the vaccine say they plan to get it, Barbrick said. Another cohort indicated they want to see how things go over the next couple of months and then book an appointment.
"Those are great signals and higher than much of the country," she said.
Barbrick said a marketing campaign will be launching soon when the supply of doses increases so people have accurate information to help them make a decision.
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