Regina– Health Minister Paul Merriman announced the new online and telephone booking system for COVID-19 vaccinations in Saskatchewan on March 10.
Beginning March 11 at 8 a.m., residents ages 85 and over from across the province will be able to book their COVID-19 vaccine appointment online or over the phone.
That age group, representing a very small slice of the population, many of which have already been vaccinated, was deliberately chosen so the system is not initially overwhelmed. Merriman said that in British Columbia, that province initially made only 100,000 people eligible for booking, and they system was overwhelmed by 1.7 million people trying to log in. Thus, he urged people to not try out the system, but instead wait until their age group is called up.
“Please do not try to book your appointment right away. We will be opening the booking system to more people in the days ahead by descending in age order. So please be patient. We are going to go as fast as the vaccine supply allows us to, and you will be able to book your appointment very soon,” Merriman said in a press conference from the Legislature in Regina.
“If you do try to book an appointment outside of your age group, you will not be allowed to, and you will tie up the system and slow down the bookings for seniors who are eligible to book.”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority's (SHA) new online booking system can be found at www.saskatchewan.ca/COVID19-vaccine, and will also indicate which age category is currently eligible for appointments. It is also mobile and tablet friendly. Alternatively, patients can speak by phone to a booking agent for help with their appointment. The Vaccine Call Centre operates 8 am to 11 pm, 7 days per week and can be accessed by calling 1-833-SASK-VAX (1-833-727-5829). He stressed it is a 1-833 number, not a 1-800 or 1-888 number.
Merriman strongly suggested people use the online system. The phone system will have a capacity of 6,000 calls per day. The government has drawn on public service staff, 811 personnel, and contractors to take those calls.
“The launch of the new patient booking system is a huge step forward in our efforts to get faster and more efficient at delivering COVID-19 vaccines,” Merriman said. “Booking your appointment online will only take a few minutes, making things simple and fast for those who are scheduling their appointments.”
The press conference included a demonstration of how the online bookings work. You must have a valid health card and a cell phone number or email address where notifications will be sent. You must also enter your birthdate. If you don’t have a health card, use the call-in line.
Users who aren't comfortable with, or don't have access to technology can book by phone. Family and friends who aren't yet eligible can also book on behalf of someone who is eligible, such as a parent or grandparent.
After you’ve entered your information and chosen first or second dose, the online booking allows you to choose a location by either a map or list. You can also enter in your community and it will provide the closest location. Then, choose an available time.
Merriman pointed out that booking for additional groups will occur withing days, not weeks. In the coming days based on an available supply of vaccine, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) will announce further age groups eligible to book their appointments.
All appointments available will be shown in the online booking system. The Vaccine Call Centre will not have access to more appointments than what patients can see online. Vaccine supply in this initial phase will not allow all clinics planned for Phase Two of the Immunization program to be open, so the Ministry pointed out that clinic locations/availability in your area may be limited.
Once the online booking system is operational, SHA will be phasing out the existing process of direct phone-calls to eligible individuals. Eligible patients should go to the new booking system and not wait for a phone call.
The system is designed to verify a person's eligibility as their appointment is booked. Identification is also required when you arrive for your appointment, to ensure vaccination of the same person who was registered online. Any instances of providing false information in an attempt to 'jump the queue' are taken seriously, and may result in a criminal investigation.
Only those eligible will be able to receive an appointment; if you are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine, you will be asked to visit again once you become eligible. At this time booking is available for first doses only. Current COVID vaccination prioritization and sequencing, along with other vaccine-related information, can be found at www.saskatchewan.ca/COVID19-vaccine.
The online booking system was designed to be a safe and secure online experience, meeting all Saskatchewan Health Authority security standards, policies and controls. Data is stored securely in Canadian data centres and is subject to Canadian data security laws.
“Despite being under unprecedented pressures, our health care workers keep finding ways to serve our patients and residents better,” Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said. “This is one more tool in our toolbox that will not only help us deliver COVID-19 vaccines quicker and more effectively, it is a system we can build on after the pandemic to create more seamless access for our patients to the services they rely on.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury