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Oct. 21, 2021 | Thursday
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NOTLers forced to Hamilton, Toronto to get vaccines
NOTL resident Colin Brzezicki gets his jab in Hamilton on Tuesday. (Supplied)

The provincial vaccine booking system opened to people aged 70 to 74 on Monday. However, glitches in the province's booking system have caused a major frustration for some Niagara residents looking to grab their jab.

The system wouldn't allow people to book a date, said Niagara-on-the-Lake's Colin Brzezicki, who called The Lake Report early Monday after unsuccessful attempts to book a vaccine in Niagara.

The booking system appeared to be working and took his health information successfully, but when he reached the calendar to select a date, the system "goes dead," he said.

"You cannot go any further and I've tried changing the venue, from the community centre to the one in St. Catharines, to the one in Grimsby, the one in Beamsville and nothing — it's like not even a rejection, it just says nothing, there's no reaction. The link is dead."

Brzezicki said he's spoken to several other NOTL residents who have experienced the same problem and some St. Catharines residents who were able to book their appointments with no hassle Monday morning.

He tried multiple times Monday and again Tuesday, only to experience the same hiccup. He's also tried using different web browsers and having a friend book it for him, to no avail — and he notes he's pretty tech savvy.

"So God knows how many people have had this frustration," he said.

Brzezicki ended up phoning the hotline number and speaking with someone in Ottawa, who also couldn't book an appointment for him, but eventually booked him one for Tuesday night in Hamilton.

"So I've got to drive to Hamilton to get to get my appointment," he said Tuesday afternoon. "And I was on this at eight o'clock yesterday morning, when it opened for the 70-plus."

Ryan Donelly, assistant to Niagara-on-the-Lake MPP Wayne Gates, said the issue was that the system made it appear that Niagara's clinics were all booked up, despite there being some spots available on Monday.

"It showed everything booked, even though there were openings," he said in an email to The Lake Report.

On top of that, new dates needed to be added for the booking system, because the spots were limited (which happened on Monday).

Gates said the booking should be working now that the new dates have been added, noting that in Fort Erie, the province had actually over-booked by about 30 per cent and was forced to call many people and cancel their appointments on Sunday. 

"So right now, as far as we're aware, you should be able to go online and get an appointment in Niagara," Gates' assistant Josh Upper said Tuesday. afternoon.

However, Brzezicki still wasn't able to book an appointment Tuesday.

Brzezicki said he wishes there had been more information available.

"I think a ball has been dropped, maybe more than one. And I certainly am totally in the dark," he said.

"I don't know what other people's experiences are or how they've managed to get an appointment — if they've got one at all. But another friend in Niagara Falls told me this morning that they tried and they've been told that everything is booked up."

Another NOTL resident, Sylvia Angelkotter, emailed to say she too felt there wasn't enough information available after reading The Lake Report's coverage of the vaccine rollout.

The region's chief medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji last week said about 100 per cent of 80-plus residents of Niagara had either received the vaccine or been booked to get one, based off 2019 census numbers.

With the NOTL Community Centre so far only being open for vaccinations March 31, April 1 and 9, "Where are these people having theirs?" Angelkotter asked.

"Pharmacies don’t have any news. It is a forgotten community here and we are feeling very upset, especially as we are a tourist area, with a lot of outsiders passing through. I am feeling trapped in my house until my turn comes for the vaccine."

She ended up booking an appointment in Toronto, she said.

"After the announcement (Monday) morning of it being my turn to make an appointment, and then being let down again, totally booked out not even able to make an appointment in May, I spoke to someone to get the vaccine done in Toronto this week instead of waiting any longer."

In a news conference Monday, Hirji said most people were able to successfully book their appointments Monday, with a few experiencing some technical glitches where some appointments weren't available.

"We've heard complaints that people aren't seeing any appropriate appointments, but then you know a few hours later we do see that our registrations have increased so people are — at least some people are — finding their way into clinics."

Part of the problem, Hirji said, was that clinics were starting to fill up.

"We've definitely heard that there's a fair number of complaints of people (struggling to get) booked. The flip side of that is that we saw a few thousand new bookings successfully go through this morning," he said.

"Part of that is some of these technical glitches, but I think it's actually, we're starting to get up to the point where we're seeing our clinics get full. If people were really hoping to register into the Niagara-on-the-Lake clinic, unfortunately now one that's filled up."

He said the region working with a province to let them know these issues and "they're working to try and figure out what's happened."

"If people are having trouble getting into clinics I just ask them to be patient, try again in a couple hours and hopefully it's going to start working again."

He said it's out of the public health department's control as to when the province updates its booking system based on the clinic dates the regiion provides, but that those dates were submitted at the end of last week.

It's "absolutely not an issue with vaccine," he said, noting the region has planned its clinics so there will be a steady supply.

Hirji said about seven per cent of people in the age group have already received their vaccines through long-term care and retirement home vaccinations.

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