COVID-19 booking frustrations in Renfrew County

The Ontario government announced this week that residents aged 60 and over are eligible to book their COVID-19 vaccine appointment, but many Renfrew County residents have learned that doesn’t include them.

"Mr. (Doug) Ford said that I was now eligible to be able to get the vaccine, and so I followed all of the things they said to do," says Maggie Kerkhoff, 65, of Arnprior. "But when I got there and got to the end, it kept telling me that they had no appointments. So I found that strange."

It’s an obstacle many in the Ottawa Valley ran into when trying to book an appointment. The Renfrew County and District Health Unit says that’s because only health units who are using the provincial booking system are able to schedule appointments for people aged 60-plus. Renfrew County uses its own local booking system and says it is not yet ready to accept those 60 and over.

It’s a hurdle 66-year-old Glenn Hamilton of Arnprior didn’t know was in his way. Hamilton says he tried a dozen different avenues to try and secure a vaccine appointment.

"It is kind of frustrating being told one thing publicly, and then you try and knock on the door or get on the phone, get on the computer and sign up, you find out you can’t get an appointment," said Hamilton.

Going with a local booking system was an option the Renfrew County Health Unit says was important, with the Acting Medical Officer of Health calling the provincial system a mess.

"Frankly, if we’d been on the provincial booking system we probably wouldn’t have given out a vaccine until March 10," says Dr. Robert Cushman. "What we’re hearing is the reason they’re moving down (the age ranges) so quickly is because they’re screwing up. They’re not really covering these people."

Dr. Cushman says the reason Renfrew County isn’t ready to start vaccinating 60 years and up is entirely based on vaccine supply, point the finger directly at the provincial government.

"We figure there’s about 20,000 people they want us to vaccinate tomorrow, and yet we’re only getting 2,500 vaccines a week," says Dr. Cushman. "We don’t have the supplies. As I say, if you have five doses of vaccine, you can’t vaccinate ten people. It’s pretty simple."

Thursday afternoon, the Renfrew County Health Unit announced that people aged 65 and over can start booking vaccine appointments on Saturday, April 10. Persons with high risk health conditions were announced the same day, deemed now eligible to receive the vaccine.

If you are a resident of Renfrew County and have any of the following conditions, you are now eligible to be vaccinated:

  • Organ transplant recipients
  • Stem cell transplant recipients
  • Neurological diseases in which breathing function may be impacted (e.g., motor neuron disease, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, ALS, acquired brain injury)
  • Haematological malignancy (acute lymphocytic (ALL), chronic lymphocytic (CLL), acute myeloid (AML), chronic myeloid (CML)), myeloma, and lymphoma (Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's (NHL))
  • Kidney disease eGFR< 30
  • Obesity (BMI > 40)  
  • Treatments causing immunosuppression (e.g., chemotherapy, immunity- weakening medications such as long-term steroid treatment    rheumatoid arthritis, lupus)  
  • Intellectual or developmental disabilities (e.g., Down Syndrome)