Vancouver Island health officials are reminding eligible seniors that there is still plenty of time to book their vaccine appointment.
Island Health, and other health authorities across the province, have begun scheduling appointments over the phone for seniors 90 or older and Indigenous people who are 65 and older.
Since the phone lines opened Monday morning at 7 a.m., Island Health’s call centre has been flooded with people eager to get an appointment, forcing many to either wait on hold or call again at a later time.
Among those who have tried to get an appointment is Bertie Jewkes, a 90-year-old great-grandmother who lives in Nanaimo and called numerous times starting at 8 a.m.
“Let me stop shaking I am so excited,” said Jewkes.
Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, Jewkes is one of the hundreds of eligible seniors on Vancouver Island who has not been able to get through to the call centre. Still, Jewkes remains optimistic.
A spokesperson for Island Health told CHEK News that eligible individuals will get an appointment, even if it means they need to call later in the week.
“You have an entire week to call. You do not need to call this morning. You will not miss your chance. There is enough vaccine,” the spokesperson said.
Island Health has more than 50 call centre agents working the phones and even more on standby. Phone lines are currently capped at 100 people, meaning if there are more than a hundred people in the queue, you will have to call back at a later time.
“There are 100 lines. If they’re full, you won’t get [through],” the spokesperson said.
However, the spokesperson stressed that eligible seniors will get an appointment, even if isn’t in the first day or two.
“This eligible population has seven days to book. Not three hours,” the spokesperson said.
Island Health has had issues with its COVID-19 testing call centre lines in the past and anticipated that there would be issues with the vaccine call centre when the phone lines opened on Monday.
“We know there will be problems, but we are hoping they will be short-lived problems that we will be able to get on top of quickly,” Victoria Schmid, Island Health’s vice-president of pandemic planning, said during a press conference on Sunday.
It wasn’t just Island Health that was overwhelmed with calls on Monday either as Health Minister Adrian Dix said approximately 1.7 million calls were made to the centres province-wide within the first three hours.
During Monday’s live COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s provincial health officer, touched on the call centre demand, pleading with people to only call in for an appointment if they are eligible.
“Calling this week if you’re outside of this first age group will not speed up your turn, but it may cause for delays for people trying to get appointments for their loved ones or for themselves who are in this first phase,” Henry said. “We can all do our part by waiting our turn and not calling multiple times.”
Island Health is planning to administer the first doses of vaccine to 44,000 people — seniors over 80 and Indigenous people over 65 — by mid-April.
Once seniors 90 and over have had a week to get registered and booked for an appointment, Island Health will open up the phone lines to younger seniors for booking their vaccine appointments over the coming weeks.
Individuals can book a vaccine appointment for themselves, their spouse and family members. The province is also allowing friends to call and book an appointment for someone else.
The number to call to book an appointment with Island Health is 1-833-348-4787.
RELATED: B.C. call centres open to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for elderly, Indigenous
Been dialing continuously since 7:00 am this morning (6 hours, 10 min.), can’t get past the long, screening, greeting message then “not able to take your call”. Are eligible Islanders actually getting registered?? WEBSITE NOW PLEASE!!
— Hans J. Larsen (@vigilantzbc) March 8, 2021
Thank you so much, @VanIslandHealth , for getting my very elderly parents booked for COVID-19 vaccines! They’ve basically stayed home for the past year and they’re itching to start lighting up the town again :) #grateful
— Shawn McKean (@shawnmckean) March 8, 2021