B.C.'s Northern Health authority is urging people hoping to get another vaccine dose to use its own website to find vaccine sites in the region, after some residents of Fort St. John received booster invitations to clinics outside their own city.
Travis Caviezel was one of those confused by the province's automated message system when he tried to book a COVID-19 immunization appointment for his father.
"He got his notification saying he could get his third shot in November," Caviezel told CBC News. "I tried booking through the link that was send to him and every time it would say no clinics available."
"I tried multiple times and a few weeks later we went to a local pharmacy and got his booster shot right away."
He wasn't alone, as other local residents reported that when they clicked the link in the automated vaccine message, some were told the only clinics available were in neighbouring municipalities.
That's because the province's website to register for immunizations does not include drop-in vaccine clinics in its list of available sites, explained Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins.
She said people should instead find the nearest drop-in clinic or pharmacy offering the dose on the health authority's own website, which is the most up-to-date.
"By their very nature, the drop-in clinics are structured so they do not require a booked appointment," she said. "What we've encouraged people to do for months now is to check their local community information on the Northern Health website."
On Friday, several health authorities across B.C. faced questions about why they were reducing the availability of vaccination clinics in several regions over the winter holiday week.
Growing research suggests that the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which is believed to be more contagious than previous mutations of the coronavirus, may pose a risk even to those with double doses of the vaccine.
Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization has strongly recommended Canadians over the age of 50 to get a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine six months after their second. It suggested those age 18 to 49 to do so as well.
The health authority's website includes a map and also explains what people need to bring to prove their eligibility if needed to receive another dose.
"The drop-in clinics are one more way to make it that much more convenient and accessible for people, whether they're looking for their first, second, or third dose if they're eligible," Collins said.
"We are continually working to see overall immunization rates in the north go up."
Currently, invitations for third doses of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 are being prioritized for people 65 years and older, Indigenous adults over 18, those undergoing some medical treatments involving compromised immune systems, and those who got two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that even with public clinics closing down, there are still ways for people to get vaccinated through community pharmacies. Dix said there are 1,800 pharmacy clinic appointments available in the north, with just 450 slots booked over the next two weeks.
Northern Health's vaccine clinic website can be found here. The province's phone helpline for Immunize B.C. is 1-833-838-2323, and B.C.'s registration portal, which does not include drop-in clinics but only those accepting reservations in advance, is here.