British Columbia

Tempers flare at Surrey vaccine pop-up clinic, as people wait for hours only to be turned away

People who waited in line for hours at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday were angry and frustrated to learn they would not receive a shot.

Health minister promises to improve communication around Fraser Health drop-in programs

A man grabs a security guard after being told he would not receive a COVID-19 vaccine after waiting in line for hours during a pop-up clinic at Newton Athletic Park in Surrey on Wednesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

People who waited in line for hours at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday were angry and frustrated to learn they would not receive a shot.

Staff from Fraser Health were surrounded by a confused crowd when they emerged from the Newton Athletic Park clinic at about 1:30 p.m. to announce that anyone who hadn't received a ticket would not get the vaccine.

Many of those waiting complained that they'd taken the day off work, and had no previous indication they were wasting their time.

Jay Grewal told CBC News he'd been waiting for nearly four hours at that point, and said a security guard had told him he was 562nd in line for 800 shots.

"What's the point of that? You should tell us, 'This many people are going to get it.' You can hand out tickets in the morning," he said.

"Where did all the vaccine go?"

WATCH | Lack of communication frustrates those who waited in line for hours

Anger and disappointment as Surrey vaccine clinic runs out of shots

CBC News BC

2 months ago
1:28
People who say they waited in line for hours outside a pop-up vaccine clinic at Newton Athletic Park vented their frustration Wednesday afternoon after learning they would not get a COVID-19 shot. 1:28

Fraser Health was making doses of Pfizer vaccine available to people over the age of 18 who live in the area, which is considered a high-transmission neighbourhood.

Health authority staff on site declined to speak on the record, but maintained that people in line were told there were no guarantees of getting a shot. They told the crowd that the only way to guarantee a dose is to book an appointment.

But many of the people who were turned away complained of a lack of communication.

"It's really unorganized. At least have megaphones or something," Rhiya Heir said.

'We could have done better'

People in line complained about the absence of clarity about the clinic throughout the day.

Nick Layson said he was there because he'd heard through the grapevine that, as a 29-year-old, he would be eligible. Other pop-up clinics this week offered AstraZeneca shots, and were limited to people aged 30 and up.

But while waiting in line, Layson had heard conflicting information about the age limits and how many people would receive a vaccine.

"I hope I'm not wasting my time," he said after lining up for three hours. "What needs to happen, especially with this many people involved for something as important as the vaccine — it's just communication."

Hundreds of people are pictured waiting in line Wednesday, hoping to get a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Newton Athletic Park in Surrey. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed concerns about how the Fraser Health drop-in clinics have been managed so far this week.

"We could have done better in terms of communication, and I acknowledge that," he said.

In two clinics in Surrey and Coquitlam on Tuesday, more than 4,000 doses of AstraZeneca were administered, according to health officials. 

The vaccines were meant for people living in hot spot communities, but at the Coquitlam clinic, no one who spoke with CBC News said they were turned away for living in another community.

People who attended the clinics said they learned about them through word of mouth or social media, and there has been criticism that this makes it difficult for people who work essential jobs or have language barriers.

Dix promised that communication about the pop-up clinics would improve, but said the most important thing anyone can do to receive a shot is to register online for the province's age-based program and wait for notification they can book an appointment.

"The overwhelming majority of people who've received vaccines in B.C. have booked appointments," he said.

Beginning at midnight on Wednesday, anyone over the age of 58 is eligible for a vaccination appointment.

With files from Isabelle Raghem and Tanya Fletcher

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