Published Monday, March 15, 2021 5:16AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 15, 2021 7:40AM EDT
While several other provinces have already launched their online vaccine appointment websites, including Quebec and Alberta, Ontario’s vaccine task force announced last month that it wanted to wait until March 15. The delay, the province said, was so the system could be tested further to ensure it would not crash.
“We are confident in the system itself but we all know in many places there are some hiccups and sometimes the systems go down for a while,” Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, said at a rare Sunday news conference at Queen’s Park.
“If it does go down for a while, we’ll fix it and get it back up but while it is down, there will not be a single empty chair in a vaccination clinic.”
The site went live at 8 a.m. and only select priority groups, including people born in 1941 or earlier, are eligible to book.
For those who don’t have access to a computer, the province has also opened a call centre where people can book appointments. Hillier said the call centre consists of more than 2,200 operators capable of answering 10,000 calls per hour.
Many of Ontario’s local public health units and hospitals have already launched their own booking portals to begin vaccinating the oldest members of the community. Several regions, including the Peel, Durham, and Halton, have opted not to use the province’s appointment portal in favour of their own sites.
Toronto Public Health launched a temporary site as a stop-gap measure last week but is transitioning to the provincial system.
As part of a soft launch, thousands of appointments were booked for Toronto Public Health over the weekend using the provincial system.
The city said Monday that 11,178 people have now booked appointments at one of six city-operated immunization clinics between March 17 and April 11.
“We had the advantage of taking the opportunity to have the province develop something that is provincewide. It gives people more choice in terms of their bookings. It gives them a huge call centre… to be able to access,” Mayor John Tory told CP24 on Monday morning.
“So there are advantages and disadvantages. But look, the real issue that has constrained the sort of timing of the rollout to a broader audience of the vaccination has been supply.”
Premier Doug Ford has said the province has the capacity to administer 4.8 million vaccine doses per month but is currently only receiving enough supply to do about a quarter of that.
On Sunday, Hillier said he hopes to move on to the next age group in early April.
“As soon as we start to see the capacity in our pipeline, greater than the number of 80 year olds that we have to get vaccines to, we will begin calling forward that next bracket to register and book an appointment,” he said.
“Based on the numbers going through, I would simply say somewhere early in April we will be calling forward 75 year olds and upwards, faster if we get more vaccines rolling in.”
Those eligible for vaccination can book online at www.ontario.ca/bookvaccine or by phone at 1-888-999-6488.