Islanders calling wrong number to get COVID-19 vaccinations

·3 min read
'If people are having trouble on the phone line for whatever reason — if they have access to the internet, they can [book online],' says Marion Dowling, P.E.I.'s chief of nursing.  (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)
'If people are having trouble on the phone line for whatever reason — if they have access to the internet, they can [book online],' says Marion Dowling, P.E.I.'s chief of nursing. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)

Phone lines at Health PEI were busy taking calls from Islanders 75 and over who are able to book appointments to receive their COVID-19 vaccines — but many are calling the wrong numbers.

"People are calling multiple places. Normally they might call their local public health office or the Chief Public Health Office to look at the flu vaccine," said P.E.I.'s Chief of Nursing Marion Dowling.

"Our phone lines are busy, as I say, and I want to make sure people know the correct phone number to call. It is our toll-free booking line, which is 1-844-975-3303."

Dowling said the province's online booking site has been working well "despite the extra load," so she is advising Islanders use it: PrinceEdwardIsland.ca/GetTheVaccine.

"It's a very simple process, we've gotten some feedback even from people who are not that tech savvy [that] it's usually only taking a person up to five minutes to book, maybe a little longer if you're not used to online forms. But it's working really well," Dowling said.

She said it can handle a couple hundred people simultaneously booking appointments, so it's given the system a lot of extra capacity.

'Want people to have a smooth process'

P.E.I. is rolling out the vaccine in three phases, starting with those it has deemed most vulnerable — like seniors in care homes.

Starting Thursday, Islanders 75 and up born January through April may book appointments. Those born May through August are invited to call starting this coming Monday, March 15, and then those born September through December can begin booking on Thursday, March 18.

Dowling says Health PEI keeps improving its COVID-19 vaccination booking system as they learn what works best.
Dowling says Health PEI keeps improving its COVID-19 vaccination booking system as they learn what works best. (CBC)

The phone line is available until 8 p.m. Thursday, Dowling said. If people aren't able to get through today, they can keep trying another day.

Dowling said they have made many improvements to the phone system since it began, and they have learned "how anxious Islanders are and how keen they are to get vaccinated, which is a really good thing."

"We want people to continue to have a smooth process for booking their appointment and getting that quickly when it is their turn," Dowling said, adding that's why officials decided to divide the 75-to-79 age group into three separate groups.

She said Islanders have been co-operative in adhering to the schedule, and she wanted to assure people who must wait until next Thursday that there will still be appointment slots left for them.

Having a slow start to vaccines arriving has helped iron out kinks in the process, she noted.

There are 10 phone lines staffed at a time in one location, Dowling said, plus others in another location helping manage online bookings. They have had to bring in additional staff to help make the bookings.

"This will help us learn again for the next group who come," she said — that will be those 70 to 75, a larger group than any of the others so far.

The other group that is able to begin booking vaccinations Thursday is Islanders 18 to 29 who work in the food service industry — people in that group must call one of six pharmacies across P.E.I. for an appointment. The list of pharmacies is on the province's website.

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