Another 7,000 COVID-19 vaccine appointments were added in Ottawa Tuesday afternoon after more than 5,200 added on Monday were booked.

"All COVID-19 vaccine appointments (including booster doses) for the 12+ population are now booked,” the health unit tweeted Tuesday morning. “We apologize for the inconvenience & are working to add more appointments later today." By the afternoon, OPH confirmed another 7,000 appointments in the city.

This is the second time several thousand appointments were added locally after the health unit first said all spaces were booked into January following the expansion of eligibility for booster doses in Ontario.

Many Ottawa residents said they experienced problems when logging on to the provincial booking system to book booster shots Monday morning, which are now available for people 50 and older. Ontario officials said a technical issue is to blame.

The provincial vaccine booking platform opened at 8 a.m. Monday for residents 50 and older who received their second dose at least six months ago. That's about 3.4 million people provincewide.

But many social media users in Ottawa and across the province reported a number of problems and said they were unable to book appointments.

Health Minister Christine Elliott's office said in a statement Monday the provincial booking system was experiencing a technical issue due to high demand.

"While thousands of Ontarians have already booked their appointments this morning through the provincial booking system, the provincial portal is currently experiencing an intermittent technical issue and we are working to resolve it as soon as possible," the statement from a spokesperson said.

"We ask individuals to be patient and keep trying."

Despite the difficulties, more than 115,000 appointments were booked successfully by 3 p.m. Monday, Elliott said.

Ottawa Public Health noted booster appointments will still be available at pharmacies.

Many Ottawa residents expressed frustration with their unsuccessful attempts to book online on Monday.

“Booking a booster in Ottawa: Wait half an hour on the provincial site and it doesn't work, then wait an hour and a half on the phone just to be told no more appointments are available,” one Twitter user wrote. Many others reported similar problems.

Some people, though, reported successfully booking a third dose after several attempts or waiting more than 30 minutes.

The expanded eligibility for people 50 and older comes as Ontario's panel of expert advisers on COVID-19 said that the Omicron variant -- first detected in the province in late November -- now accounts for 21 per cent of Ontario's COVID-19 cases.

"I strongly recommend that residents book an appointment or drop-in to a pharmacy for a third dose as soon as they become eligible," medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said in a statement last week.

"This along with continuing to follow public health measures will help reduce the burden on our health care system in the weeks and months ahead."

You can book an appointment through the Ontario government's COVID-19 vaccination portal, by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900 and through select pharmacies and primary care settings. 

The following individuals are also currently eligible for booster doses

  • Health care workers
  • Staff and designated essential caregivers in congregate settings (such as long-term care and retirement homes)
  • Individuals who received a complete series of a viral vector vaccine (two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the Janssen/Johnson and Johnson vaccine)
  • First Nation, Inuit and Métis adults (16 and over) and their non-Indigenous household members.

As of Jan. 4, all Ontarians aged 18 and older will be eligible to receive a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Friday, 88 per cent of Ottawa residents aged five and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 82 per cent had received two doses.

Contact tracing efforts under stress

The expanded eligibility for a third dose comes as COVID-19 cases rise in Ontario and the COVID-19 Omicron variant of concern spreads.

Ottawa Public Health said this weekend there is evidence of community transmission of the Omicron variant in a variety of settings. Officials suspect an outbreak that closed École élémentaire catholique Saint-Jean-Paul II in Stittsville is linked to the Omicron variant.

"Testing indicates that it is likely to be the Omicron variant of concern," said the health unit in a letter to parents on Saturday.

"As a result, the entire school (staff and students) have been deemed to be a high-risk contact and must isolate immediately, regardless of vaccination status."

On Monday, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said in a statement that the recent surge in cases has created a backlog in contact tracing efforts.

"To address this backlog of cases, Ottawa Public Health is asking individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate and notify your high-risk contacts immediately of your positive COVID-19 status, as there may be a delay in Ottawa Public Health contacting you," the statement said. "If a close contact tells you they have tested positive, please book a COVID-19 test immediately, even if fully vaccinated - do not wait for Ottawa Public Health to contact you."

OPH also stressed that anyone experiencing symptoms should book a test right away.

"If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, do not wait a day or two days to see if your symptoms improve, book a COVID-19 test immediately and isolate until you have your results, even if you are vaccinated."

- WIth files from the Canadian Press