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The frustration of vaccine hunting is back, say Ottawa residents

Ottawa residents on the lookout for their COVID-19 booster shots this week say some of the frustration of earlier vaccine hunts is back.

Mike Martin says he’s been trying to book his booster appointment for four days without success and he’s worried about Ontario’s plan to expand eligibility to all adults

“What’s going to happen on Monday…when it opens up to 18-plus? There’s no way the system’s going to handle it,” Martin said.

He said while he’s impressed by the work of volunteers, like the Vaccine Hunters who help people find appointments, he doesn’t feel it should be the responsibility of ordinary citizens.

“If they say, ‘you’re eligible to go book your vaccine,’ then you should be able to go book your vaccine,” Martin said.

He said the province should support organizations like Ottawa Public Health to get the job done.

WATCH | Vaccine capacity isn’t meeting demand:

Some Ottawa residents struggle to find third-dose appointments

3 days ago

Duration 0:42

Ottawa resident Mike Martin says attempting to book his third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been frustrating, with long waits on the phone and very few appointments available. 0:42

Long waits outside clinics

Even people who were lucky enough to book their shot on Thursday had to wait about two hours outside the Minto Sports Complex at the University of Ottawa.

Buddy Tatlock was waiting with his wife Beverly for her third dose.

“Booking is challenging and annoying,” he said. “If you don’t have the resources and the locations to give the vaccines, what’s the point of opening it to everyone?”

People line up outside the University of Ottawa’s Minto Sports Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine appointments on Dec. 16, 2021. Staff at the site told people they were running two hours behind schedule that day. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

A necessary bottleneck

Jen Baker, a pharmacist and owner of Loyalist Pharmacy in Amherstview, near Kingston, Ont., said opening up eligibility will make sure boosters get to people who may have had their second dose before some members of the 50-plus cohort.

“As much as it’s created this bottleneck, we also needed that opening up to try to make sure we’re keeping as many people as possible out of hospitals in the next few weeks,” Baker said.

Jen Baker, pharmacist and owner of the Loyalist Pharmacy near Kingston, Ont., says health care workers will be working long hours over the holidays as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign. (Jen Baker)

She said she’s trying to prioritize those who’ve had to wait the longest since their second dose — as well as those getting their first dose to strengthen collective immunity. 

Baker is asking for people to be patient with health care workers who’ll be taking on long hours to try to meet demand.

“A lot of people are going to be giving up their holidays to get this going and to create additional capacity in the system,” she said. 

Vaccine work ‘critical’

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) says it’s working with hospitals, family health teams, pharmacies as well as drawing staff from across its own programs to respond to the booster campaign.

“We’re temporarily reducing our public health programs. Everything, almost, including our mental health and substance use health work, our home visits for new parents,” said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. 

“It’s not ideal, but that is how critical this work is right now.”

On Thursday afternoon, OPH released 10,800 spots for Saturday at the Nepean Sportsplex clinic and a new clinic at the EY Centre in the south-end. 

Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the Ottawa’s Board of Health, said there are still going to be some protected appointments for children in the system.

That evening, it announced that people will require an appointment for a third dose, offering walk-ins for first and second doses only.

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