Vaccine shopping leading to cancelled appointments, frustration for Ottawa doctor
OTTAWA -- It took 80 hours of work, but, on Monday, the team at the Kingsway Health Centre in Manotick administered 260 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine during their drive-thru clinic.
It was supposed to be 288.
“288 doses takes 80 man-hours to book. 80 man-hours. That’s insane. You can imagine if people drop out how much time was lost and resources were lost,” Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, Director of the Kingsway Health Centre said.
It’s not the time lost, or the hours that will be spent contacting the 28 people who did not show up to their appointments, that frustrates Dr. Abdulla.
It’s the thought that others could have been vaccinated in their place.
“This whole system requires you to register through something called COVAX Ontario, so it takes time and effort to [get someone] into the system. People that don’t show up to a session and have multiple bookings elsewhere actually prevent other people from getting their shots,” he said.
The problem isn’t isolated to clinics run by family physicians, either. At pharmacies, like the Shoppers Drug Mart in Westboro, owner and pharmacist Jordan Clark says he deals with about 10 cancellations on an average day.
“For the most part, it’s not a huge problem for us because we have such a high demand that we’re able to find someone on our list who is able to take that dose,” Clark said.
Clark says none of the doses scheduled for those appointments are wasted. They’re either given to someone else or put back into storage.
“We just sort of move down the list until the next person is ready to receive their shot. Because we’re using AstraZeneca, the stability of that vaccine is actually pretty good. So it’s able to stay in the fridge once the vial is open for 48 hours,” Clark added.
Dealing with cancellations isn’t just a challenge for those trying to administer the vaccines.
Doug Large already has his first dose of the vaccine, but says coordinating that appointment was easier than trying to cancel another.
“I thought, 'Great, I’m going to free up my appointment for somebody else.' There’s no possible way to cancel my appointment that I got at the Eva James Centre coming up on Wednesday,” Large said.
Like many, Large signed up for multiple waitlists, hoping to get his shot as soon as possible.
“No one’s gaming the system; we’re all just trying to get our first shot and then we’re trying to free up the spot for someone else,” he said.
According to Large, even those working at Ottawa Public Health vaccination clinics weren’t able to help him cancel the appointment.
“When I was there the other day with my wife, talking to the people there, asking them how do I free up my next appointment for my first shot for somebody else, even the folks there don’t know how to do it, so it’s very frustrating,” Large said.
Ottawa Public Health says people wishing to cancel an appointment can call 613-691-5505.
In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, provided Tuesday, Ottawa Public Health said it was aware of some cancellations for appointments through the provincial portal.
"Between March 17 and April 30, 160,000 dose 1 vaccine appointments were booked on the Provincial portal for mass immunization clinics and pop-up clinics led by the City and Ottawa Public Health. During this timeframe, about five per cents of total bookings for dose 1 vaccination appointments have been cancelled on the Provincial portal," the statement said. "However, this does not provide a clear indication of how many of those cancelled appointments were subsequently rebooked on the Provincial portal (for example, someone wishing to change the time or location of a booked appointment on the portal, someone cancelling an appointment and rebooking through a pharmacy or primary care provider)."
Large says all this could have been avoided with a more comprehensive provincial booking system.
“It should’ve just been one single platform, one single place.”
For those who have booked an appointment through the Ontario COVID-19 vaccine booking portal, you can follow the instructions regarding cancellation in the confirmation email you received or call the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line at 1-833-943-3900 (TTY 1-866-797-0007). You will need your health card and your postal code.
If you booked your appointment with the public health unit, pharmacy or hospital, the Ontario government says you must contact them directly to make any changes.
A previous version of this story mistakenly said the phone number given by Ottawa Public Health to call if you need to cancel a vaccine appointment was not advertised on their website. It is the same number one calls to confirm eligibility for a vaccine.