British Columbia

Here's what you need to know about B.C.'s COVID-19 vaccine booking issues

Telus apologized Tuesday and said it would have more than 250 agents taking calls that same afternoon.

Telus was hired, their system didn't work as planned — but only Coastal Health didn't have a backup plan

Health Minister Adrian Dix provides an update on COVID-19 cases in B.C. on March 8, 2021. He said Vancouver Coastal Health didn't have a backup plan in place if the COVID-19 vaccine booking system experienced issues, while the other health authorities did. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

If you first don't succeed, try again — but know there will be plenty of time later in the week, too. 

That's the message from the B.C. government after the first day of people being able to book their own vaccinations ended with only hundreds of people in the Vancouver area signed up.

"We also need to do better," said Health Minister Adrian Dix on Monday, acknowledging the large technical problems that besieged Vancouver Coastal Health, the health authority for the Vancouver area.

Only 369 bookings were made in Vancouver Coastal, and officials pledged to work with that health authority to get those bookings "back on track."

Here's what we know so far.

5 health authorities, 5 outcomes

Like most of the pandemic, the specific logistical issues of booking vaccines were separated out into B.C.'s five health authorities: Fraser, Coastal, Interior, Northern and Vancouver Island.

The province asked people to call in this week only to book appointments for people 90 and older for most of the province — though people 80 and older can book in the Sunshine Coast and Sea-to-Sky corridor now and everywhere in Northern Health starting Wednesday — along with Indigenous people over the age of 65. 

By the end of Monday, Fraser Health was able to book appointments for 8,772 people or approximately half of the people over 90 in the region. (It's possible some people under 90 were also booked.) 

WATCH | B.C. blames Telus for problems with call-in system for COVID-19 vaccines:

B.C. blames Telus for problems with call-in system for COVID-19 vaccines

2 years ago
Duration 2:02
Many B.C. residents are frustrated after spending hours trying to book COVID-19 vaccines through the call-in system. The provincial government is laying the blame on Telus, but thousands are left wondering why the government wasn't better prepared.

Northern Health was also able to book a number equivalent to half its over-90 population, while the Island and Interior were around 25 per cent. That indicates that in most of the province, many people who were eligible to book appointments this week were eventually able to do so on Monday. 

But in Coastal Health, the number was under four per cent — just 369 bookings in total.   

Only Fraser Health had an online booking system available — Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said they were the only "system robust enough to handle it at this time" — but the province promises an online system will be in place for all people by April 12. 

People are pictured at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Surrey, B.C., on Monday. A total of 369 bookings were made through Vancouver Coastal Health for COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday, while the number was as high 8,772 for other health authorities in the province. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

What went wrong? 

The provincial government said a contract with Telus had been signed for the call centres. 

Last week, CBC News asked how many people were staffed in each call centre, how they were set up and how many people they were equipped to respond to each day. The Ministry of Health did not respond. 

The Ministry of Health also did not respond to a request to see the call centres. 

The B.C. government has said technical issues resulting from high call volumes were to blame for problems on Monday. 

On Tuesday in the B.C. Legislature, Dix said Coastal Health didn't have a backup plan in place, while the other health authorities did. 

And he said Telus would face consequences if they weren't able to quickly resolve the situation.

"They are in the call centre business. They have a responsibility to deliver on contracts they signed," said Dix. 

Tuesday afternoon, Telus CEO Darren Entwistle issued a statement that didn't explain why there were issues.

"We are incredibly sorry for the frustrations that British Columbians have experienced," he said. Entwistle promised Telus would have more than 250 agents taking calls by Tuesday afternoon.

"We can and will do better and we are working diligently to make this right," he wrote. 

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