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Health minister blames Telus after B.C. vaccine booking call centres overwhelmed – Burnaby Now

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VICTORIA — British Columbia is blaming Telus after call centres for COVID-19 vaccine appointments were overwhelmed, while the province also faces criticism over the lack of an online booking platform.

Premier John Horgan said Tuesday that the government takes “full responsibility” for the system being overloaded but the contractor has acknowledged it failed to meet expectations.

Horgan said he’s “profoundly disappointed” that one health authority did not have a backup call centre and relied solely on the one provided by Telus, resulting in jammed phone lines.

“We had a bad day yesterday,” Horgan said. “We being all British Columbians that live in Vancouver Coastal Health. We’re taking steps today to correct that.”

Horgan said the province was not prepared for 1.7 million calls within the first three hours of the system opening for people aged 90 and up as well as First Nations residents over 65.

Health Minister Adrian Dix has said about 80,000 people are in those categories, but about 26,000 of those have already received a shot in a care home or another setting.

Just under 15,000 appointments were booked Monday, as many frustrated residents reported getting a busy signal or a recorded message telling them to call back later. 

Fraser Health was the only authority with an online option for booking appointments and 8,722 were made there, while the Interior and Vancouver Island health authorities each recorded just under 2,500 bookings and residents in the north made just over 1,000.

Only 369 bookings were made in Vancouver Coastal, and Dix said that’s because it was the only authority without a backup call centre to support the one provided by Telus.

However, he said Telus should be held accountable for the failure in that region.

“Vancouver Coastal Health … is in the business of providing health care,” Dix said.

“They contracted with a provider who is in the call centre business. That provider let them, but more importantly let people over 90 and over 65, down yesterday.”

Dix said the company repeatedly assured the province, even as late as 9 p.m. Sunday night, the call centres were adequately staffed. However, he said he believes the number of people committed to the centres by Telus “simply were not there” on Monday.

The staffing issues were compounded by technical problems, he said.

“To say that I’m disappointed or frustrated is an understatement,” Dix said. “People should be mad that the service provider didn’t come through here.”

More people were trained overnight and on Tuesday to answer calls, including about 100 people in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, he said.

Those who call this week are scheduling appointments for next week. Every week, a new age group is set to become eligible, so the demand on the system is expected to increase.

Dix said if Telus is “unable to deliver,” then B.C. is actively looking at alternatives.

Telus president Darren Entwistle said in a statement he is “incredibly sorry” for the frustrations that residents have experienced and the company can and will do better.

“Our team has been working around the clock to scale capacity and respond to the unprecedented demand,” he said.

Entwistle says Telus promised to have 156 agents answering calls at all times to schedule vaccinations across the province. By Tuesday afternoon, it will have more than 250 agents taking calls.

“We will ensure that all eligible British Columbians can book their vaccine in the time frame set out by the province.”

However, many residents trying to book appointments have questioned why Fraser Health was the only authority with an active online booking platform.

Dix has said that call centres are the focus of booking at this time because of the advanced age of those eligible, but a provincewide web-based system will be ready on April 12.

The minister did not directly answer questions on Tuesday about why the province did not begin work on an online platform months earlier to have it ready for this week.

“There will be a provincewide system in place. We want to make sure it’s ready and it works,” he said. “What we need to do this week is get everyone the appointments they need for next week.”

Another 550 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the province on Tuesday with two more deaths. 

“Today marks a sombre milestone: one year since the first person in British Columbia died as a result of COVID-19,” said a joint statement from Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Another 182 cases have been confirmed as variants of concern for a total of 576 cases, most of them are linked to the strain first found in the United Kingdom, the statement said. 

— By Laura Dhillon Kane in Vancouver

— With files from Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Exclusive-Canada’s Ontario to expand use of AstraZeneca COVID vaccine as epidemic rages

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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year, according to a government source.

The change will broaden access to vaccines as a third wave of infections threatens to overwhelm hospitals in Canada‘s most-populous province, and should make it easier to use doses that in some cases have been accumulating at pharmacies.

The change will be announced on Monday and go into effect across the province on Tuesday, according to the source. The vaccine has already been distributed to pharmacies but currently can only be given to people turning 55 or older this year.

Ontario announced new public health measures on Friday, promising checkpoints at provincial borders, new police powers and closing outdoor amenities, while leaving many workplaces open. The measures were widely criticized by doctors and public health experts, and the province quickly reopened playgrounds and modified the new police powers.

On March 29, Health Canada said it would review reports of serious blood clots and bleeding in a small number of people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine in other countries, and an independent panel called the National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) recommended that it only be given to people 55 and older. All provinces followed that advice.

But NACI’s recommendations are not binding. Last week, Health Canada, the country’s drug regulator, said it had reviewed all available evidence and would not restrict the use of the vaccine, because its benefits outweigh its potential risks. Health Canada said at the time that NACI was reviewing its recommendations.

On Sunday, NACI’s chair told Reuters that the panel would make a new recommendation on Tuesday.

Health Canada said regulators in the UK had estimated the risk of clots to be very small, roughly four in a million people who receive the vaccine. It also said the complication was treatable. Two people have developed it in Canada, and both are recovering.

Several other countries have limited the use of the vaccine to older people. Denmark has withdrawn the shot, and Norway said on Thursday it would take more time to decide whether to resume use.

Ontario reported 4,250 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. The Ontario Hospital Association said 59 patients were admitted to intensive care on Saturday, bringing the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs to 737.

Health Canada says those who receive the vaccine should seek medical attention immediately if they experience shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent belly pain, neurological symptoms like severe headaches or blurred vision, or skin bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of the injection.

 

(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney)

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Trudeau mobilizes federal workers to battle COVID-19 in Toronto and rest of Ontario

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he would send federal healthcare workers to help Toronto and the province of Ontario battle a third wave of COVID-19 infections that has forced shutdowns of schools and businesses.

“We are mobilizing federal healthcare workers from across government departments to deploy on the front lines in Ontario and specifically the Greater Toronto area where the situation is most critical,” Trudeau said in a video posted on Twitter.

Other provinces, especially on the Atlantic coast, are working “to determine what human resources and equipment they could free up over the coming days,” Trudeau said, adding that the federal government would cover the costs of that help.

The government will also seek to boost rapid testing, especially for essential workers, Trudeau said.

The government of Ontario, Canada‘s most-populous province and industrial powerhouse, has moved schools online and announced more stringent public health measures on Friday, including shutting the provincial borders to non-essential travel.

On Saturday, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair deployed two mobile health units to set up more hospital beds in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, and the prime minister said he stood ready to send the Red Cross to staff mobile vaccination clinics in Ontario if help is requested.

Canada‘s seven-day average of new infections was 8,669, the chief medical officer said on Sunday, a 26% increase compared with the previous seven days. Ontario reported 4,250 new cases on Sunday.

Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.

More than 48 million doses are to be delivered by the end of June, which is enough for all of Canada‘s population of some 38 million to receive at least one shot, with a total of 100 million doses expected by the end of September.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Canada has second case of rare blood clots after AstraZeneca vaccin

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(Reuters) – Canada on Saturday reported a second case of rare blood clots with low platelets after immunization with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in a week, while it said it still recommended the use of the shot.

The person who experienced the very rare event has been treated and is recovering, Canada‘s health ministry said in a statement, adding that the person lives in the province of Alberta.

Based on the evidence available, Canada still maintains that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the potential risks, the statement said.

Canada health authorities “will continue to monitor the use of all COVID-19 vaccines closely and examine and assess any new safety concerns,” the statement said.

Canada reported a first blood clotting associated with the vaccine on Tuesday, and a day later, after a review, health authorities said they would not restrict use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A separate advisory council had earlier recommended Canada stop offering the vaccine to people under 55. That panel is in the process of reviewing its advice.

Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign, but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.

Amid a spiking third wave of infections, Ontario, Canada‘s most populous province, announced new public health restrictions on Friday, including closing the provinces borders to domestic travelers.

 

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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