Head of Ontario's vaccine task force set to leave as province's vaccine booking system launches

The news about retired general Rick Hillier comes with Ontario reporting an additional 1,268 COVID-19 cases, and the province's vaccine booking system launching both by phone and online for those over the age of 80.

Reports of delays, errors since government website and phone line went live at 8 a.m.

The province's booking system and support desk went live Monday morning. In order to reduce high traffic volumes, the province is asking people who are not yet vaccine eligible to avoid calling the line or clogging up the online system. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

The head of Ontario's vaccine task force will leave his job in the coming weeks, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

The news about retired general Rick Hillier comes with Ontario reporting an additional 1,268 COVID-19 cases, and the province's vaccine booking system launching both by phone and online for those over the age of 80. 

During the province's news conference Monday, Ford said Hillier will only be around "for a couple more weeks," as his Order in Council is running out.

"I tried to get him to renew it, but as he said, 'Doug, I did the job I came for, and we got everything set up,'" said Ford, who indicated he agreed with that sentiment.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Ford spokesperson Ivana Yelich said Hillier's contract expires on March 31.

"The general was tasked with overseeing the development of Ontario's vaccine rollout plan and associated infrastructure," she said. "The plan and infrastructure are now in place, and the province is administering more and more vaccines each day."

Thousands of people logged on to Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine booking system within minutes on Monday morning, with many reporting long wait times and error messages.

Toronto nurse Stephanie Prosper told CBC News this morning she was able to get onto the system and fill out the required information by 8:05 a.m. — just five minutes after the government website and an accompanying phone line officially went live. 

She had been trying to book vaccine appointments online for her aunt, uncle and their neighbour, who are all seniors living in Niagara.

By then, there were already 10,000 people ahead of her in the queue, with her wait time estimated to be "more than an hour." 

Prosper, who works in a COVID-19 assessment centre, said she is worried about people navigating the site who aren't tech savvy. 

"A lot of the seniors don't really have computers, some of them don't have family members to help them," she told Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa on Monday morning. 

Ford said Monday he was a little nervous when the new system launched, but that thus far he's happy with what he's seen.

"I was just praying all night this thing wasn't going to crash," Ford said, while promising to "iron out" any issues.

WATCH | Ontario's vaccine booking system launched for those over the age of 80:

Ontario’s vaccine booking system launched for those over the age of 80

3 years ago
Duration 1:50
Ontario’s vaccine booking system launched Monday for those over the age of 80. Thousands of people now have appointments, but plenty of others remain stuck in limbo facing error messages and confusion. Lauren Pelley has the details.

Reports of error message

Some who used the site shared their successes on social media, while others complained of attempting to book appointments online, only to get an error message informing them that "the form has been tampered with." 

Sue Gowans, a Toronto resident hoping to book an appointment for an elderly relative, said she received the error message.

She then called the phone line for the portal, where she was transferred to the booking system for the Niagara Public Health Unit. After waiting for someone to pick up, she was then told they couldn't book an appointment for her. 

"This has escalated to ridiculous," Gowans wrote in a message to CBC Toronto. 

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said the error message people had received while trying to book online was resolved.

She said that as of 3 p.m., more than 92,000 appointments for first and second doses had been booked.

Only try to book an appointment if you're eligible, province warns 

Ford said Sunday it's crucial that only eligible residents make use of the system. For now, that group consists solely of those 80 and older.

While many of Ontario's 34 public health units have already established their own systems for booking vaccination appointments, the provincial portal will now either enhance or fully replace those setups in many areas.

In addition to allowing vaccine-seekers to book their shots, the portal also provides instructions on how to schedule appointments based on protocols in place in each specific health unit.

The province said people who are eligible to get vaccinated can book online here, while those wishing to schedule by phone can call 1-888-999-6488.

First and second vaccination appointments will be arranged at the same time, the government said, noting people will be asked to provide their provincial health card details, birth date, postal code and email address or phone number.

Ford said the booking system will be open to other age groups in April as part of the next phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout.

"Everyone will have their chance to get vaccinated, but we're prioritizing our most vulnerable," he said.

Vaccines rolling out at quarter of Ontario's capacity: Ford 

The launch of the provincial portal marks the latest step in Ontario's mass immunization drive, which introduced new elements targeting some 60- to 64-year-olds in recent days.

A pilot project allowing pharmacies to administer shots launched last week in the Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington health units.

Family doctors in six other public health units — Toronto, Peel, Hamilton, Guelph, Peterborough and Simcoe-Muskoka — also began delivering vaccines to eligible patients in the same age bracket as of Saturday.

Both pilot projects will see eligible residents receive shots of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

Ontario has the resources to administer 4.8 million vaccines per month, said Ford, but the rollout is running at about a quarter of that capacity because of limited supply. He said the province needs more vaccines.

"The infrastructure is in place, and I can tell you folks we are ready," he said.

According to the ministry, health units across Ontario administered 33,198 vaccines yesterday. A total of 287,283 people in Ontario have now been given both shots of a vaccine.

9 straight days of more than 1,000 new cases 

This is the ninth straight day Ontario has reported more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases. The seven-day average now stands at 1,350. 

Monday's new cases include 366 in Toronto, 220 in Peel Region and 147 in York Region. 

The Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement Monday the province is now in the midst of a third wave of the virus, citing data from Ontario's Science Advisory Table.

Provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said at a press conference Monday that Ontario could be in a "slight undulation," or a smaller wave, but the province is monitoring the situation.

"You can always tell when you're in it after it's over," he said.

The province also said Monday COVID-19 has been linked to nine additional deaths.

Officials say 699 people are being treated in hospital for COVID-19, an increase of 98 from Sunday.

Of the patients currently in hospital, 298 are in intensive-care units. However, data provided by Critical Care Services Ontario, which provides a more up-to-date look at critical care data, shows there are now 349 people in intensive care. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in cases were:

  • Hamilton: 71
  • Thunder Bay: 61
  • Ottawa: 57
  • Durham Region: 53
  • Halton Region: 47
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 33
  • Sudbury: 33
  • Niagara: 27
  • Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District: 19
  • Waterloo Region: 18
  • Brant County: 17
  • Lambton: 14
  • Eastern Ontario: 13
  • Windsor-Essex: 10

Labs also confirmed 70 more cases linked to the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total thus far to 1,106.

Ontario's lab network completed 33,875 test samples since the last update and logged a test positivity rate of 3.8 per cent.

Ontario also reported an additional 110 school-related cases on Monday. Of those, 91 were among students, 15 were among staff, and four were reported among individuals not identified by the province. 

With files from The Canadian Press, Adam Carter, Julia Knope and Lauren Pelley