After being flooded with hundreds of thousands of calls this week and running out of appointments for COVID-19 vaccines within hours, the Middlesex-London Health Unit is opening up another 6,900 slots Thursday morning.
“Many people have been disappointed because they haven’t been able to get through on the phone,” Chris Mackie, medical officer of health for Middlesex-London, said Wednesday.
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The health unit announced Wednesday 6,900 appointments to receive the vaccine at sites in London and Mt. Brydges will be available when telephone and online booking systems open Thursday at 8 a.m.
The appointments are for seniors aged 80 and over, Indigenous people 55 years of age and older and high-priority health-care workers. The appointments are from Thursday to March 18.
Demand for appointments has been high since the health unit announced Saturday it would start giving the COVID-19 vaccine to the groups.
On Tuesday, the first day appointments could be booked, the phone line to book appointments received more than 200,000 calls, with only one per cent of callers making it through to book an appointment. The booking website had nearly 30,000 hits. The roughly 5,000 appointments were gone in less than two hours.
It was the same story Wednesday, when far fewer appointments for March 17 were up for grabs. Bookings were shut down less than three hours after registration opened.
The health unit said it is making several changes in response to the high demand and the frustration felt by people trying to book by phone. The health unit said some appointment times will be available exclusively to people booking by phone.
Both systems – online and telephone – will close when bookings allocated to them are filled, the health unit said.
“We have reserved a number of appointments for telephone bookings tomorrow and I want to encourage people to keep trying to get through over the course of the day if you aren’t able to connect with one of our telephone agents right away,” Mackie said.
In the chaotic rollout caused by limited supply, high demand and red tape, some seniors are having difficulty getting their shot. One of them is Lino Mascotto, who served with the RCMP and worked in counter espionage for its spy agency.
Lino, 91, is in a Parkwood Institute unit for patients awaiting to be admitted to long term care. He can’t get a vaccine despite his son’s numerous appeals to both St. Joseph’s Health Care and the Middlesex-London Health Unit.
On Saturday, Kent Mascotto hopes to take his wheelchair-bound father to the Western Fair District Agriplex where he has an appointment for a vaccine shot. Kent will wheel his dad past a hospital wing filled with veterans who have already received both vaccinations, while his father was left waiting.
The reason his dad was overlooked is a “study in health-care bureaucracy,” Kent said.
“It has been a long process. It has been hard to find someone to take responsibility. No one is taking initiative to recognize the issue. People are recognizing my father has fallen through the cracks, but there are no plans to seal that crack,” Kent said.
Lino is under veterans care as a former RCMP staff sergeant, but he is not a veteran because he did not serve in the military.
He is also considered an alternative level of care (ALC) patient who is waiting for placement in a long-term care home.
Only ALC patients who have beds booked in long-term care are being vaccinated. Parkwood has 25 ALC patients, with 24 waiting for long-term care beds.
“Every time I went in and would ask when is the vaccine rollout they did not have the information,” Kent said.
He was told in mid-February veterans received their second vaccine injection.
Kent took up his concerns with senior officials at St. Joseph’s and the Middlesex-London Health Unit.
St. Joseph’s, which runs Parkwood, said it is following guidelines on who can be vaccinated.
“Individual hospitals, including St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute, do not have direct access to vaccine and, at the current time, cannot directly provide the vaccine to patients. The provincial government and the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) are accountable for the distribution and provision of the vaccine. They provide direction on the priority groups and when these groups will receive the vaccine,” Roy Butler, St. Joseph’s vice-president of patient care and risk management, said in a statement.
“St. Joseph’s has raised with the MLHU the issue of access to vaccine for our inpatients who are awaiting long-term care and are over age 80. These types of patients are in hospitals across the region. We will support the process for vaccinating these individuals once it has been established by the MLHU.”
But the health unit is working to get as many vaccines to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, Mackie said.
There is no plan in place for hospital patients of that age who cannot get to a clinic, he said.
“There is no campaign in-hospital at all,” other than Parkwood for veterans only,” Mackie said. “Patients in hospitals are not prioritized above people in the community. Right now the focus is on mass vaccinations.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story wrongly stated which part of Parkwood Institute is home to Lino Mascotto. It’s been corrected.
Book an appointment
By phone: 226-289-3560 from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week
Eligibility: On Monday, the Middlesex-London Health Unit expanded eligibility to people 80 and older, Indigenous adults 55 and older and additional high-priority health-care workers in London, Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford, Huron and Perth counties.
Appointment times: Appointments for seniors are from March 4 to 18.
Clinic locations: Western Fair District Agriplex, 845 Florence St., or Caradoc Community Centre, 565 Lions Park Dr. in Mt. Brydges.