'I had to lie': Problems plague first day of Quebec's vaccine registration system
MONTREAL -- Montrealers desperately trying to get their elderly parents vaccinated against COVID-19 are facing headaches and calls not going through on the first day registrations opened to the general public.
The province announced earlier this week that people aged 85 and older are now eligible for their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine beginning March 1 by appointment only at designated vaccination sites.
A new phone line and website were meant to make the process smooth, but some are already facing problems getting an appointment.
"I tried to call the number ... and it’s just busy, busy, busy all the time," said Selina Itzkowitz, who tried calling early Thursday morning.
She said she instead turned to the online registration website to book an appointment for her 94-year-old father, who has Alzheimer's, and chose a spot available at 8:20 a.m. next Monday.
But when she reached the end of the form, she was surprised to see a message saying the time slot was no longer available. She was able to redo it and this time to get a spot at 12:50 p.m.
"It would have been smarter if you could put in all the information and then at the end it asks you to pick a time because then you get the time you picked," said Itzkowitz.
Another concern for her is whether or not she will be able to get her 85-year-old mother vaccinated at the same time.
Even though vaccinations are currently restricted only to people 85 and older, those who accompany people in that age group (a spouse, for example) can also receive the shot under certain conditions: that they are 70 years old or older and they provide care for their loved one three or more days per week.
Itzkowitz’s 85-year-old mother qualifies, but there was no option to indicate that on the registration form. Instead, the earliest she could book an appointment for her was five hours after her father's appointment.
"I'll have to make two trips now. My father has Alzheimer’s and I can’t leave him alone," she said.
"So, if they're going to make me come back in the afternoon with my mother, I’m going to have to bring him with me."
The registration website appears to have posted a note later in the day that says an eligible person who is accompanying someone 85 and older “will be able to get vaccinated at the same time as you.”
ELDERLY PARENTS TURNED AWAY
Chantal Chartrand, 51, said her elderly parents were turned away after she was able to get an appointment for them Thursday morning.
When she got the confirmation text message, it was a relief: her parents would finally get their first dose of the vaccine. The text message from ClicSante confirmed her parents, both 85, were booked for a vaccination at 10:35 a.m. at Club Optimiste De Lachenai at 2953 Saint-Charles Street in Terrebonne.
Chartrand said she took the day off to bring her parents to the appointment, but when they got there a man in a medical gown turned them away, saying they were out of vaccines.
In a video of the interaction shared with CTV News, the man said their supply of 66 Pfizer vaccines had dried up.
“When [my parents] came back to me in the car they looked lost. Oh my God -- this is a stress, because I made the reservation and I had proof,” she said.
“Nobody took care of them and said, ‘Ok, let me take your name and we’ll get you an appointment.’ It was just, ‘Ok, go back home’ and they didn’t have any solutions to offer them. What is that?”
RESIDENT SAYS HE TRIED CALLING 20 TIMES
Itzkowitz was not the only one who couldn't get through on the phone line Thursday morning.
Terrence Williams said he tried calling 20 times Thursday morning to book an appointment for his 102-year-old mother, but couldn't get through.
He, too, tried his luck on the website but was dumbfounded when he saw that there was no option to select his mother’s year of birth: 1918. The drop-down menu stops at 1920.
He ended up choosing 1920 just to get an appointment, he said.
"I had to lie to get my mother in," he said. "Had I not lied I would have been stumped and tried to phone to make the appointment, and that failed, also."
SOME SUCCESS STORIES
Not everyone faced problems getting a spot, though.
Some people took to Twitter to share their success stories in grabbing an appointment.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube told a news conference Thursday afternoon that he was “concerned” with the appointment process, particularly the phone lines. He said adjustments would be made by the evening rectify the situation, which he attributed to a “bandwidth” issue.
“We cannot wait for things to be perfect,” Dube said.
People can sign up to receive the vaccine when it’s their turn by visiting the Quebec COVID-19 vaccination campaign website or by calling 1-877-644-4545, beginning on Thursday at 8 a.m.
The phone line will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.
Did you have any issues signing up for the COVID-19 vaccine? Let us know about your experience by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org