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Frustration and joy in booking COVID-19 vaccines

Leeds, Grenville and Lanark residents scrambled to book vaccine appointments on Wednesday as the provincial government expanded its eligibility to people aged 60 years and older.

Their experience in booking appointments was a mixed bag, with many people complaining that they were unable to get appointments anywhere in Leeds and Grenville. Others, however, reported a smooth procedure and they were able to book an appointment at the Brockville Memorial Centre.

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The experiences seemed to depend on timing, whether they booked online or used the provincial or local phone hotlines, and a good measure of luck.

Leeds and Grenville Warden Roger Haley’s experience appeared typical. Haley, mayor of Front of Yonge, used the provincial website as soon as it opened Wednesday morning.

The website offered no spots available anywhere in the local health unit but gave the option of booking in Kingston and Ottawa, Haley related at a counties council meeting later Wednesday. He booked in Kingston for in late April.

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His wife, who went online at the same time as Haley, also was offered only Kingston or Ottawa options. She chose Kingston but her appointment was for three days later than her husband’s.

One Merrickville woman, who wanted to get her vaccine in Kemptville, was told Wednesday that no shots were available there. She accepted an appointment for April 30 in Winchester, which is in the adjacent Eastern Ontario Health Unit.

People reported waiting 20 to 45 minutes online to book their appointments.

But one Brockville man, who was thwarted repeatedly from booking online because the computer wouldn’t recognize his health-care number, called the provincial hotline at noon on Wednesday, got through within five minutes, and was able to book an appointment at the Brockville Memorial Centre for May 4.

Others who used the online booking reported having to go as far afield as Cornwall to get the jab.

People who tried to book at the two pharmacies in Leeds and Grenville that are able to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine also reported mixed results.

A Brockville man who tried multiple times to book online for a vaccine at the Walmart pharmacy in Brockville this week found that it had no appointments available.

However, Dave Dillon of Cardinal, who had complained in an email to MPP Steve Clark last week that he was unable to book an appointment in Leeds and Grenville, scored an appointment at the Brockville Walmart for Thursday.

The other pharmacy in the health unit that was approved to give the vaccine is Shoppers Drug Mart in Perth.

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The province has promised to expand the number of pharmacies allowed to give out the shots as the supplies of the vaccine allow.

Rideau Lakes Mayor Arie Hoogenboom says that the government’s rules on which pharmacies can give out the shots discriminate against a new drugstore in Portland.

Speaking during a discussion of the local health unit, Hoogenboom told counties council on Wednesday that the health unit has told the Portland pharmacy that it wasn’t eligible to give out the vaccines because it wasn’t involved in the earlier flu vaccine program.

Hoogenboom said the pharmacy recently opened and it wasn’t around for the flu program. He argued that the health unit’s rule discriminates against the new business owner in his township and against rural Ontario as a whole.

People in Rideau Lakes are forced to travel to Brockville, Kingston, Perth or Smiths Falls for vaccines, Hoogenboom said, instead of having the option of going to the Portland drugstore.

In its weekly vaccine update, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit reported that 21,932 residents of the health unit had received a COVID-19 shot as of the end of last week. That includes 3,564 people who received their first shot and 136 residents in long-term care or retirement homes who got their second jab.

wlowrie@postmedia.com

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