Ontario COVID vaccine portal experiencing booking issue, but ministry won’t give specifics

TORONTO — Ontario’s vaccine booking portal is experiencing an issue — which some users have said hides all available appointments in their area — but the Ministry of Health won’t provide specifics on the problem, when it started, or how many people it has affected.

The Canadian Press has noted multiple reports of people hoping to book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment, often parents looking on behalf of their young children, and finding nothing, sometimes in the entire city of Toronto. That’s despite assurances from authorities that there is actually wide availability.

In response to initial questions last week from The Canadian Press, a spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones said, “there have been no reported problems.”

When pressed again earlier this week, Hannah Jensen acknowledged there was a problem.

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“The Ministry of Health is currently troubleshooting an issue with its provincial booking system,” Jensen wrote in a statement.

“There are many clinics that have availability, so clients are encouraged to continue to look for appointments via the provincial booking system and the provincial vaccine contact centre, as well as via other local vaccine channels such as pharmacies, primary care providers and municipal booking systems.”

Jensen did not provide answers to several follow-up questions.

Jenny Santin, a mom of two in Collingwood, Ont., said she has been trying to book her four-year-old daughter’s second shot for weeks. She would check several times a week because her local public health unit told her there was indeed availability, but still nothing appeared available. She eventually called the provincial vaccine contact centre and secured an appointment.

“I’m pretty frustrated,” Santin said in an interview.

“I have two small kids, I don’t have a lot of time to be going and checking all the time to find appointments. And I also just feel kind of like the system isn’t working … we’re told we need to vaccinate to protect our families, and we can’t even get an appointment, and then knowing the appointments were there all along _ I kind of wonder if I could have gotten something sooner had I tried calling.”

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The ministry hasn’t confirmed if the issue is only or primarily affecting bookings for pediatric vaccines, but Santin said it feels like one more way in which that age group has not been made a priority in the pandemic.

“It feels like everybody’s just moved on from dealing with COVID and life’s back to normal,” she said. “So it almost feels like no one at the ministry or at the government really cares that there’s a miscommunication or that the portal isn’t working.”

Ottawa Public Health posted on its social media channels this week that it was aware of an issue with the booking system “that prevents appointments from being made at various clinics throughout ON via phone and online.”

But in response to inquiries about the issue, when it started and how many reports Ottawa Public Health had received, the health unit suggested questions be put to the province.

Liberal health critic Adil Shamji said the vaccination rollout has been disorganized from the beginning.

“Since then, there has been little done to promote vaccination resulting in lower than expected rates of immunization, and now technical glitches are making it challenging for Ontarians who are seeking vaccines on their own initiative,” he said in a written statement.

“The Ford Government’s lack of transparency around this shortcoming fits into a broader narrative of glossing over their failures.”

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