Flooded with visitors, vaccine booking webpage taken offline for hours

·4 min read
The website for booking COVID-19 vaccinations opened to 48,000 Nova Scotians age 80 and up on Monday morning. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The website for booking COVID-19 vaccinations opened to 48,000 Nova Scotians age 80 and up on Monday morning. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

On the first day all Nova Scotians age 80 and up could book their COVID-19 vaccination appointments, the province's booking webpage struggled to keep up with high traffic and had to be disabled for several hours.

The Department of Health and Wellness first posted about "technical issues" with the booking portal on Twitter shortly after 8 a.m. AT Monday. Within two hours, the department gave an update, again on Twitter, saying the booking page had been disabled as a precautionary measure.

A spokesperson for the Health Department told CBC News by email that "extremely high user traffic" was the source of the problems, and the website operator "has been increasing capacity to the booking site throughout the afternoon."

Around 4:30 p.m., the Health Department reported the website was back up and operating normally, but by then, some users found there were no appointments left for the initial dates.

Gillian McNeill, 80, tried to book online starting around 9 a.m. She turned to the phone after learning the website was down, but she couldn't get through. Finally, with the website back up, McNeill was able to select a time online. When she tried to confirm, however, she said the page refreshed with a message saying every time slot in Halifax had been taken.

McNeill said she's now left wondering how and when to book her shot.

"It doesn't then say what on earth a person should do ... now I've spent almost all of the day, and I still don't know what to do now."

The process "could have been infinitely better," she said.

A provincial spokesperson said there were 2,208 appointments booked on Monday, a number based on vaccine supply. As more vaccine is received, more appointments will be made available and the public will be notified about booking, they said.

Troubles started soon after the page launched

About 48,000 Nova Scotians are at least 80 years old, qualifying them for the first round of community clinics for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Among them is 91-year-old Helen Kolpillai, whose daughter-in-law, Radha Kolpillai, got out of bed at midnight to try to book a vaccine appointment on her mother-in-law's behalf.

The webpage didn't work for the younger Kolpillai in those first minutes after it was supposed to launch, nor at 6 a.m. when she tried again. She couldn't get through on the phone, either.

"I'd like to cut them some slack," she said of health officials managing the vaccine rollout. "But having said that, when is it going to get fixed?"

More than 10 hours after her first attempt, Kolpillai still hadn't secured an appointment for her mother-in-law.

A prototype clinic ran for four days last week at the IWK Health Centre, where a randomly selected group of about 500 people, 80 and up, living within 100 kilometres of the hospital received their first doses of the vaccine.

As vaccination opportunities open up to the rest of the 80-plus population, more clinics are opening at staggered dates around the province:

  • Monday, March 8: Halifax, New Minas, Sydney and Truro.

  • Monday, March 15: Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth.

  • Monday, March 22: Amherst, Bridgewater and Dartmouth.

The website is run by CANimmunize, which has a contract with the province for appointment booking, patient screening and activity tracking at immunization clinics. CANimmunize is also providing Nova Scotia with software for digital vaccination records that will be available through a smartphone app.

The landing page for novascotia.ca/vaccination for most of Monday morning and afternoon.
The landing page for novascotia.ca/vaccination for most of Monday morning and afternoon.

So far, 20,011 Nova Scotians have received at least one dose of vaccine and 12,845, or a little over one per cent of Nova Scotians, are fully vaccinated.

Once all Nova Scotians age 80 and up have had an opportunity to get vaccinated, bookings will open up to people 75 and up, and continue in five-year age brackets until the whole population is covered.

The online booking portal can be found at novascotia.ca/vaccination, and the phone line for booking is 1-833-797-7772.

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