TORONTO — There were reports of long waits and technical glitches as Ontario widened vaccine eligibility for more than 100 COVID-19 hot spots on Monday, but the province's health minister said the government was "pleased" that thousands were able to book an appointment to get their first dose.
More than 130,000 appointments were booked by early afternoon after the province expanded eligibility to include anyone 18 or older in 114 designated areas Monday morning, the government said.
The province's online booking system “held up” during the surge of interest, Elliott said as she urged people who had technical issues to try to book again.
“You will get an appointment, but I am sorry about the problems people are having now,” Elliott told reporters.
Some social media users said they logged on early in the day but still came up empty, as the provincial site showed tens of thousands of users in the queue minutes after bookings opened.
Others reported technical errors with the site itself.
Jessica Mazze, 20, was eager to book a shot after spending weeks checking community clinics for vaccine availability in her Toronto neighbourhood.
The Ryerson University student was expecting the provincial site to be busy, but was frustrated when she was unable to book online because the postal code on her health card doesn't match her current residence.
Multiple calls to the provincial phone line eventually got her an appointment for the end of the month, leaving Mazze relieved but disappointed with the technical issues.
“Thankfully, end of the day, I got the appointment. But I was just extremely frustrated with the whole process,” she said by phone.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health urged people to continue to try to book appointments, even if they were unable to early in the day.
"We know that it slowed down at first because it's a great rush to the door at the start," Dr. David Williams said.
"So if you had some problems this morning, please stay at it."
The province reported 3,436 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 16 more deaths linked to the virus.
The seven-day average case count is 3,577, down from 3,917 a week ago.
The number of patients in the province's intensive care units is also declining, but Williams urged people to continue to follow public health measures.
"This is no time to be casual and to be complacent," he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said confusion booking an appointment to get a COVID-19 shot could have been avoided had the government done more advance planning.
"It's been pretty disappointing to watch his government flail around when it comes to finding ways for people to easily access appointments for their shots," Horwath said.
This week and next, the province plans to send half its vaccine supply to hot spot areas, based on recommendations from the government's science advisers.
Adults in some neighbourhoods had already been able to make vaccine appointments, but not through the province's online booking portal.
Eligibility expands further across Ontario on Thursday, when online bookings open up to all residents aged 50 and over.
People with high-risk health conditions and some groups who can't work from home will also become eligible.
Ontario has said it expects everyone aged 18 and over to be able to book a vaccine appointment by the end of May.
Also on Monday, Ontario’s long-term care minister said the government is taking action to address problems highlighted in a report outlining the province's neglect of nursing homes in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Merrilee Fullerton said the deaths of residents and staff in long-term care homes must not be in vain.
She said the government is moving to address a severe staffing shortage, improve quality of care for residents and build new beds.
"I'm committed to making long-term care a better place for staff to work, and a better place for residents to live," she said.
The Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission called for an overhaul of the sector and laid out its recommendations in a final report that was delivered to the government Friday night.
The head of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario stressed that unless Fullerton is willing to legislate higher staffing levels in long-term care, other changes won't help.
"If it's not legislated, it isn't going to happen with this government or another," CEO Doris Grinspun said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press