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'Record' day for vaccine bookings following early stumbles

B.C. health minister blamed Telus earlier in the week for big bottlenecks for vaccine bookings

B.C. is likely to book a “record” number of COVID-19 vaccine appointments by end of day Thursday, according to B.C.’s health minister.

Health Minister Adrian Dix revealed Thursday 10,589 people were able to book appointments to receive a shot as of Thursday morning.

He expected that number to grow to a record number of bookings by the day’s end.

A total of 49,761 British Columbians have been able to schedule appointments since bookings opened up to eligible residents earlier in the week:

·      Fraser Health: 20,984 bookings
·      Interior Health: 7,889 bookings
·      Vancouver Island: 7,583 bookings
·      Vancouver Coastal: 9,691 bookings
·      Northern Health: 3,614 bookings

Monday, the first day of bookings, proved to be a frustrating launch with 1.7 million calls being placed within three hours of phone lines opening up at 7 a.m.

About 82,000 British Columbians are currently eligible to book — 47,000 people 90 years old or above, and 35,000 Indigenous people 65 years or older — while 26,000 people in those eligible groups have already received at least one dose.

But by the end of Monday, only 369 appointments were booked for the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Dix said Wednesday in the B.C. legislature that call centre provider Telus Corp. “failed us.”

“Telus did not meet its contractual obligations and let down people over 90 and let down Indigenous people over 65,” Dix said.

Telus issued a statement, acknowledging it had let those people down.

“We can and will do better, and we will make this right. Our team has been working overnight to respond to the significant demand and scale capacity by adding hundreds of additional agents,” the company said.

Fraser Health is the only local health authority that rolled out an online booking platform on Monday. It has far exceeded all other health authorities in successful bookings.

The remaining four health authorities in the province are depending on call centres for now.
A province-wide online booking platform is scheduled to launch April 12 as B.C. begins vaccinating the broader population in the coming weeks.

Details on the province’s booking platform remain sparse and provincial officials said last week more information would be made available soon.

Meanwhile, a growing number of European countries have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca plc vaccine — approved two weeks ago by regulators in Canada — following reports of blood clots.

“We have not seen any of those types of issues here in B.C., although we only just started using the AstraZeneca vaccine here,” B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during Thursday’s briefing.

“It is something that is not unexpected with new products and new vaccines issued to large numbers of people.”

She said she was on a call earlier in the day with Health Canada over the reported issues in Europe to better understand what’s going on.

As of now, all 500,000 of the AstraZeneca doses that have arrived in Canada originated from the Serum Institute of India.

Henry said she does not believe any of the European doses in question feature the same “lot numbers” as those from the Serum Institute.

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