As Yellowknifers aged 60 and over reported difficulty booking an appointment for their vaccine against Covid-19, the NWT’s health authority apologetically declared it’s fully booked this week.
In a statement published to social media but not circulated more broadly, the health authority said “very high demand” explained why some residents had been simply unable to contact anyone about getting their shot.
Residents described to Cabin Radio an inability to get anyone to answer the phone, then silence for days after filling out an online form requesting a callback.
On Wednesday, the health authority acknowledged it had run out of room for anyone else to book.
“For the week of January 18-22 we had 1,000 slots available for Covid vaccine appointments in Yellowknife for the 60+ priority population. These are filled with the callback requests we have already received so we are fully booked for this week,” the authority’s Facebook post read.
The authority in effect told residents to stop calling and instead use an online booking platform that has not yet launched.
“The quickest way to get an appointment will be by booking online when we have that option ready,” the authority wrote. It did not state when that would be.
“We will not be able to book further appointments until the dates/location of the next clinic are finalized. We expect to make this announcement before the end of this week,” the post continued.
Whenever that next clinic is, there will be “enough appointments … to ensure everyone in the 60+ priority group in Yellowknife has an opportunity,” the authority said.
It wasn’t clear whether the need for more appointments dedicated to this priority group would have a knock-on impact on others.
“We do apologize for any inconvenience or frustration that the phone backlog may have caused, but we are committed to ensuring you have an opportunity to receive an appointment and we are working rapidly to make this available through an easy online booking process,” the health authority’s statement concluded.
Frustration among some Yellowknife seniors came as a clinic in Fort Simpson reported running out of the vaccine, so high was demand on day one.
“We need to shut down the vaccine clinic early today,” the health authority told Fort Simpson residents in a separate update, reporting “incredibly high demand.”
The clinic needed to restock supplies, the authority said, and would operate to extended hours of 8am-8pm on Thursday in a bid to accommodate everyone.
“We will have enough vaccine for everyone,” the authority pledged.
What’s the target?
The NWT has a stated aim of immunizing 75 percent of eligible adults against Covid-19. Dr Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer, believes at least 70 percent must be vaccinated to provide herd immunity and relative safety from the virus.
However, it’s hard to identify the precise number of people behind the NWT’s 75-percent target.
There are multiple ways to define the phrase “eligible adults” – which has changed in the past week – and multiple ways to reach 75 percent, depending on the base figure used for the NWT’s total adult population.
The uncertainty is important as it impacts residents’ ability to easily measure the territorial vaccination program’s success.
The territory is reporting its target as a percentage (75 percent) but reporting its vaccination progress by headcount (1,893 as of Monday), making direct evaluation tricky.
Asked this week what specific number of people the territory hoped to vaccinate, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Damien Healy did not directly answer. The department instead focused on the amount of vaccine being delivered.
“We have been promised 51,600 doses from the federal government, which is enough vaccine to give the required two doses to 25,800 people,” Healy wrote, referring to the two doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine each person must receive to be considered fully immunized.
Pressed on whether the territory’s definition of “eligible adults” includes NWT residents who are pregnant or breastfeeding, immunocompromised, or have an autoimmune disorder – who only this week were told by Dr Kandola they could go ahead and receive the vaccine – the department stated: “We will have enough vaccines for this group also.”
In setting an NWT target, Healy said, federal agency Statistics Canada had “worked with jurisdictions to accommodate for population growth for planning purposes and our modelling includes both these numbers, as well as information from the community if any is available.”
He did not, however, provide the resulting figure.
Sarah Pruys contributed reporting.