Vaccination no-shows: Why are thousands of appointments going unfilled?

TORONTO — Vaccinate and vaccinate quickly — those are public health orders across the country.

But in a rollout plagued with confusion, doses have gone unclaimed in some instances despite the urgency and calls from doctors for vaccines to be opened up to workplace hotspots and essential workers.

Last weekend, in Montreal alone, 5,000 appointments were left unfulfilled.

The province called it frustrating, and says it will soon open up eligibility to more groups.

“All those essential workers will have the plan tomorrow as to how that will evolve,” Christian Dube, the province’s Minister of Health, told reporters on Tuesday.

The no-shows are happening all over Canada. Last week, city staff in Toronto were urging people to claim the 7,000 appointments that were still open for the week.

Some experts blame government messaging for the empty appointment slots.

Dr. Amit Arya says confusing rules that often change from region to region and shifting policies around the AstraZeneca vaccine are contributing to the difficulty, and these are challenges government officials need to overcome with better communication.

“It is the biggest public health intervention of our lifetime, actually, the COVID-19 vaccine,” Arya said.

He added that impersonal mass vaccination centres are also among the barriers keeping some away.

Having family physicians on the vaccination front line could help those who are afraid that a vaccine centre won’t address their concerns, he suggested.

“They are not anti-vaxxers or vaccine hesitant, there are just simple questions people want answered in a culturally safe [way], language specific questions they want answered in a respectful way [such as] is it safe to take this vaccine with my medication,” he explained.

With conflicting information on eligibility and other factors bombarding Canadians, it can lead to anxiety around the process.

Especially when scheduling glitches occur.

Beth Moscovic is someone who knows this firsthand. She was eligible for the vaccine, but only until Tuesday according to a special pilot program in a Montreal neighbourhood.

“I had an appointment, but I had booked an appointment at another location last week but I kinda got cold feet and I cancelled it,” she said.

When she showed up for her new time slot on Tuesday, the system had incorrectly registered her as having had a shot already, causing delays.

In other regions, such as Ontario’s Huron-Perth, officials have reported an uptick in people “shopping around” for specific vaccines, making numerous appointments and slowing down the process for others.

Setbacks like these ones are proving costly in the race against variants.

Many essential workers say they are more than willing and anxious to fill empty slots. Moving essential workers farther up the list is something doctors and experts have endorsed, particularly as cases rise due to workplace outbreaks.

A pharmacist in Toronto took matters into his own hands and moved teachers like Jeff Stevens to the front of his line — no appointment needed.

“It is a recipe for disaster and they’re terrified, they’re terrified to go to work,” pharmacist Kyro Maseh told CTV News Toronto.

But for now, under the current rules in the region, he is only able to vaccinate teachers over the age of 55.

According to Ontario’s current plan, huge swathes of essential workers, including teachers, will not get their first shots until mid-May – and even that is on a newly announced accelerated timeline.

And B.C. finally launched its province-wide online vaccination booking system on Tuesday, months into the vaccine effort — one more example of the patchwork rollout that has residents of many provinces seemingly saying ‘no thanks.’  

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