Error message for Haldimand-Norfolk residents booking vaccine online

·3 min read

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit “strongly recommends” residents book their COVID-19 vaccine appointment online.

The catch? The system was down for several days this week, with residents getting an error message and growing increasingly frustrated.

Chris Buckley of Caledonia tried in vain to book an appointment Tuesday evening.

“The site would not allow me to hold a date and time, and the next day they finally posted ‘down for site maintenance,’” Buckley, 66, told The Spectator.

On Thursday afternoon, health unit spokesperson Kyra Hayes said the IT department was “working hard” to get the system back online.

Around 4 p.m. on Friday, Hayes announced the portal was up and running again.

During the shutdown, residents 65 and over had to call to book an appointment, with the health unit asking for patience as staff scrambled to return messages.

Before it crashed, the online booking system had been “working very well,” the head of Haldimand-Norfolk’s vaccine task force said.

“The hotline has been overloaded. We’re getting over 1,000 calls or emails a day. So we’re working diligently to catch up, and the online scheduling form is helping,” Norfolk EMS chief Sarah Page told reporters Tuesday morning.

But that optimism was short-lived.

Buckley is eager to get the vaccine, especially as she had already booked an appointment for her husband, Dan, who is in an older eligibility group.

“I used the online portal for him and it was fine,” Buckley said, adding that Dan’s appointment at the Cayuga arena went smoothly.

“In and out in half an hour,” she said. “It’s just booking online that seems to be a huge issue.”

Stymied by the error message, Buckley sent emails to the health unit and left phone messages that went unreturned. So she finally called Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt’s office, and soon got a callback to book an appointment this weekend.

“But what about all the other people who are still waiting and aren’t as persistent as me?” Buckley said.

“This whole idea of leaving a message — knowing there’s 1,000 calls a day, who’s answering the phone?”

Hayes said both counties redeployed staff to the health unit deal with the deluge of phone calls and emails.

“My question is, if they cannot handle the volume, why are they continuing with their standalone system?” Buckley said.

“The online error should have been fixed in hours, not days.”

Page said the health unit decided to implement its own online booking system because the provincial system was not up to snuff.

“We had some concerns with the provincial system lagging behind where we actually were with the age groups and eligible participants,” she said.

Buckley said she is usually not one to make a fuss, but getting the vaccine was too important to sit idly by.

“I want to be able to (book an appointment) myself,” she said. “But I was in the spot of, ‘What do I do?’ I want to see my grandchildren.’”

Aside from the technical hiccup, Hayes said the vaccine rollout is proceeding smoothly, with virtually perfect attendance at clinics and “an exceptionally low level” of wasted vaccine.

A new clinic at the Delhi arena opened on Friday, and Hayes said all four clinics are booked to capacity heading into the weekend, with 24,012 doses administered to date.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator