Vaccine Booking Website Goes Offline After Being Flooded with Visitors

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On the first day, all Nova Scotia residents aged 80 and above could book their COVID-19 vaccination appointments, the region’s booking website struggled to contain high traffic and had to be disabled for hours.

The Department of Health and Wellness initially posted about “technical issues” with the booking portal on Twitter after 8 a.m AT Monday. In two hours’ time, the department issued another update on Twitter saying the booking page had been disabled as a precautionary move.

A spokesperson for the department said in an email that “extremely high user traffic” was the origin of the challenges, and the site operator “has been increasing capacity to the booking site throughout the afternoon.”

About 4:30 p.m, the Health Department reported the webpage was working again normally, however by then, some users – at least in Halifax – found there were no slots left for the initial dates.

Gillian McNeil, 80, tried to book online beginning about 9 a.m. She opted to the phone call after learning the webpage was down, but she could not get through. Lastly, with the site back to normal, McNeil was able to pick a time online. But when she tried to confirm, she said the webpage refreshed with a message saying every time slot in the area had been taken.

She said she is now left wondering how and when to book her vaccination. The process “could have been infinitely better,” McNeill said.

“It doesn’t then say what on earth a person should do … now I’ve spent almost all of the day, and I still don’t know what to do now.”

Problems began soon after the webpage launched

Around 49,000 Nova Scotians are at least 80 years of age, qualifying them for the initial round of community clinics for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Among them is Helen Kolpillai (91), whose daughter-in-law, Radha Kolpillai, got out of bed at midnight to try and book a shot on her mother-in-law’s behalf.

The page did not work for the daughter-in-law in those first few minutes after it was supposed to go live, nor at 6 a.m. when she tried again. She could not get through on the phone, either.

“I’d like to cut them some slack,” she said of health officials managing the vaccine rollout. “But having said that, when is it going to get fixed?”

10 hours later, after the young Kolpillai made her first attempt, she still had not secured an appointment for the 91-year-old.

A prototype clinic operated for 4 days last week at the IWK Health Centre, where a randomly picked group of around 500 persons, 80 and above, living within 100km of the facility received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As vaccination opportunities become available to the rest of the 80+ population, more clinics are opening at staggered dates around Nova Scotia:

Monday, March 8: Halifax, New Minas, Sydney and Truro.
Monday, March 15: Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth.
Monday, March 22: Amherst, Bridgewater and Dartmouth.

The website is operated by CANimmunize, which has a contract with Nova Scotia for appointment booking, patient screening and activity tracking at immunization clinics. CANimmunize is additionally supplying software for digital vaccination records in the province, and the data will be available through a smartphone app.

Until now, 20, 011 Nova Scotia residents have received at least a dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 12, 845, or just over 1% of Nova Scotians, are fully vaccinated.

Once everyone in the 80+ bracket in the province has had an opportunity for a shot, bookings will open up for those in the 75-80 age bracket and continue in five-year brackets until the entire population is covered.

The online booking portal can be found at novascotia.ca/vaccination, and the phone line for booking is 1-833-797-7772.

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