Some people in Ottawa are having to call up to 100 times to get through to the city's COVID-19 vaccine booking line, as the city warns residents of its overwhelmed phone system backlogged by ineligible callers.
Starting Wednesday, residents who turned or are turning 90 this year, or older, can now book an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine. Inoculation for this new category of eligible residents will start Friday.
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the city are asking that only people eligible to book a vaccine call the line in order to not overload the system.
"I understand people want the vaccine, but what that does is ... tie up lines for those who are eligible this time," said Anthony Di Monte, the city's general manager of emergency and protective services.
Joan Bishop started calling at 8:00 a.m., to book an appointment for her 94-year-old husband. She said she called around 30 times but always got an automated message saying the system was experiencing high call volumes and then hanging up.
"It's quite frustrating," she said. "By putting kind of everyone in competition for this one phone line, they've created a real logjam."
I can't even get in the queue. - May El-Abdallah
Residents who are born in 1941 and older and live in higher-risk neighbourhoods have been eligible to book a vaccine since the beginning of March. May El-Abdallah's aunt is one of them.
Because of her aunt's age and language barrier, El-Abdallah offered to book a vaccine appointment for her this morning.
"Around 7:45 a.m. I started calling," she said. "I called, according to my phone records, about 26 times."
"I was expecting a high wait time on hold. That's fine. I mean, that's to be expected. But I can't even get in the queue," she said.
Denise Payette was able to get through to someone in order to book an appointment for her parents, who are both over 90-years-old. In an email, she said she called the booking line over 100 times before she was placed on hold.
She said she found the whole experience frustrating and worried the system would be difficult to navigate for someone in their 90s if they didn't have an advocate.
Online system coming
Di Monte asked people to be patient with the phone system, adding that the city wanted to start booking appointments before the province's online system went live on March 15.
"It is clear we all want this vaccine," he said. "So my first comment is to tell everybody that is now on the eligibility category, they will get their vaccine."
Di Monte said when the province's online booking system is up and running next week there will be more opportunities for people to book a vaccine.