Saskatchewan COVID-19 vaccine appointment booking system will soon go live

With the Phase One portion of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 Immunization Delivery Plan wrapping up as early as this weekend, health officials will soon be turning their Phase Two appointment booking system over to individuals to book their own appointments.

The Phase One delivery had relied on phone contacts with individuals over 80 years of age, in addition to direct delivery to residents and staff at Long Term Care and Personal Care Homes plus a series of healthcare workers.

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone estimated that the SHA will hopefully complete the long term care/personal care home portion of Phase One vaccinations by Sunday. The completion of Phase One will signal the opening up their Phase Two age-based vaccination strategy.

“That means that we’ll be moving to our next priority which is our 70 pluses. How we’re going to do that will be 100 per cent dependent with respect to how we offer clinics across the province based on available vaccine supply. But as we talked about the biggest determining factor is age, so we will start in the highest age group and start offering clinics that we can supply vaccine to,” Livingstone said during a COVID-19 update on Thursday.

“In the upcoming days you’re going to see an online booking system as well as a telephone line booking system so that those residents can book their own appointments instead of us contacting them.”

The SHA has been using a phone contact list generated through vital statistics and health card registration to contact the 80 year old individuals in Phase One, but they are finding out that those lists are not complete.

“To fill these clinics we are contacting eligible recipients wherever possible by phone based on their age and location until all available appointments are filled. Priority sequence is maintained, contacting the oldest residents first and then descending by years.”

“The lack of vaccine availability has created challenges, both for residents who become aware of clinics but have not yet been contacted by public health to book an appointment, but also for our teams that have had to pivot each and every week since the vaccination program has started because of the lack of consistent supply of vaccinations to the province.”

“That’s some of the angst we are seeing and expectations of the community. We are not going to miss people. We will make sure that we don’t. Once you are qualified you qualify for vaccination throughout the entire timeframe, including Phase Two.”

Livingstone noted that as anticipated higher vaccine deliveries begin in March, the SHA will continue to prepare for mass clinics at over 220 sites across the province and further ready their call in and online scheduling system.

“We’ve made the decision actually this week, to use the system earlier so that we can reduce some of the anxiety in the 70 plus group because they can make sure that they can book their own appointments online or through the telephone through us.”

“And in fact right now, even though we’re calling individuals at 70, we’re demoing the scheduling system. So we’re actually calling individuals, but we’re using the scheduling system to see how it works, preparing ourselves for the mass vaccination. And we are expanding it now to 70 plus.”

Livingstone said that since launching the vaccine delivery program, the have both learned a lot about vaccine and what is and isn’t working with their current system.

“Having us contact people isn’t the best way to efficiently delivery vaccine. As what you’re going to see in the upcoming days is that we’ll do an about face where people are going to be able to book their own appointments, choose where they’re going to get their vaccines in clinics that have available vaccines.”

“So certainly there were differences. I would point out that up until recently the entire community of Swift Current had nobody vaccinated, some of highest priority, high risk individuals – Long Term Care and Personal Care Homes – were sitting down in the Southwest of the province unvaccinated. That wasn’t because it was an intended consequences, but rather, one, vaccine supply, and two, we were moving into higher priority areas simply because of the prevalence of the disease.”

The South West zone has now received 1,102 COVID-19 vaccine doses as of the February 26 provincial report. The total increased from 515 reported on the first day of vaccine delivery on Wednesday, February 24, followed by another 587 doses on Thursday, February 25.

Saskatchewan health officials have also benefited from watching the roll-out of Alberta’s problematic online and phone booking system earlier in the week. Alberta’s experience provided Saskatchewan with some important insights in how to get the system ready and able to provide the best service possible.

“The team is doing a number of things to mitigate any risks associated with volumes that exceed the capability on both the phone line and the online booking system,” Livingstone noted.

“Because of the limited supply of vaccine, there will be specific age groups identified for eligibility even within that 70 plus,” he said. “When we open up the online booking system we will identifying specific age groups that are eligible to book appointments and phone in appointments, and it will not be all of 70 plus.”