Phone lines were swamped and the Alberta Health Services website crashed on Wednesday morning as seniors rushed to book vaccination appointments.
AHS said, as anticipated, the online booking tool was experiencing very high volumes Wednesday morning when the vaccine program opened up to more people.
“Call volumes to Health Link remain high and wait times may be longer than normal. Please be patient – we anticipate Alberta having enough appointments for all seniors age 75 and older by April, pending vaccine supply,” AHS tweeted in the morning.
Alberta Health Services asked that people not call 911 as some were clearly taking that route in frustration.
By late afternoon, 30,000 people had booked appointments, said AHS.
Albertans born in 1946 or earlier (ages 75-plus) were able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in two doses, beginning Wednesday morning. A number of people were expressing their frustration on Twitter.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said, “We know that age is the greatest determining factor in whether someone may experience severe outcomes due to COVID-19. I want to remind our eligible seniors that vaccines are safe and effective.
“Now that it is your turn, please arrange to be immunized to protect yourselves and those around you.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at an afternoon news conference that 6,000 appointments were made in the first hour.
“This is a good problem to have, that so many people are interested in booking these vaccinations,” he said.
He said the alternative would have been to tell thousands of people they had to wait.
“AHS has for many weeks been able to bolster their infrastructure, staffing capacity at 811 to be able to help with this,” he said.
“AHS and Telus are looking into any of the difficulties that might have occurred in the first hour.”
Many people took to Twitter to voice their frustrations.
“So close and then it crashed again. What a joke,” tweeted one.
One woman said she refreshed her screen constantly for one hour and 45 minutes before getting through an appointment on her second attempt after the first failed.
Some reported getting partway through the process, which includes filling out a questionnaire, only to get an error message.
The NDP criticized the government’s handling of the vaccination booking system.
“The failure of the online vaccination booking tool is a source of great distress for the thousands of Albertans who were unable to use it to protect themselves or their loved ones, as they were promised,” said NDP health critic David Shepherd.
“Just a week ago, Premier (Jason) Kenney boasted that his government was ‘ready to roll.’ He said Alberta was ready to inoculate ‘more than one million people’ a month,” he said in a statement.
“However their own website was not able to handle 150,000 people seeking to book appointments.”
Appointment bookings can be made online at ahs.ca/covidvaccine or by calling Health Link at 811.
Family members can book on their behalf, but will need the senior’s Alberta Health Care number and date of birth.
— With files from The Canadian Press