Phone lines have opened for seniors on the Sunshine Coast to book their vaccinations but confusion has arisen over who is eligible to call and when those immunizations begin – including from the call centre itself.
That confusion appears to stem from how the booking information appears on different official websites and from the fact that Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has separated rural area booking timelines from urban areas.
According to Vancouver Coastal Health’s (VCH) website and a press release sent to Coast Reporter March 1, Sunshine Coast residents who are 80 years old or older (born in 1941 or before) and Indigenous elders 65 years of age or older (born in 1956 or before) are eligible to phone to book a vaccine appointment as of March 8.
Vaccine clinics will be established at the Gibsons Legion Branch 109 (747 Gibsons Way), Sechelt Seniors Activity Centre (5604 Trail Ave.) and Madeira Park Legion Branch 112 (12829 Lillies Lake Rd).
The date for when vaccinations will start for those age groups on the Sunshine Coast is March 15, according to VCH. However, its website, which lists hours and dates of operation at the three sites, lists March 16 at the Gibsons Legion as the start date and location.
VCH has applied the same calling schedule to residents of Powell River, Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton.
Following the release, Coast Reporter received several emails questioning call-in booking times, while similar questions have also appeared on social media.
At least one resident was initially denied access to an appointment when he tried booking through the VCH call centre.
The Pender Harbour resident in his 80s, who described his effort to get an appointment as a “four-hour battle,” called at 7 a.m. on March 8, got through at 9 a.m. and was put on hold for another two hours before being told he wouldn’t be eligible to call until March 22.
It wasn’t until another family member stepped in and advocated for him that the call centre acknowledged the problem. He received a phone call apology, but said he would still have to make another call to book. “It was a real rigmarole, let me put it that way,” he said.
According to the March 1 release and the VCH website, different timelines apply for residents who live in Richmond, Vancouver, North Vancouver and West Vancouver.
For those municipalities, only people aged 90 and older, as well as Indigenous people aged 65 and older, are eligible to call March 8, with vaccinations set to begin March 15. Also on March 15, those aged 85 and older may call for vaccination appointments that would start March 22, while 80-year-olds are only eligible to call starting March 22, with the window for vaccinations opening March 29.
The phone number for each location is the same at 1-877-587-5767 and the call centre is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Those booking and vaccination timeline distinctions based on location don’t appear on a separate dedicated webpage on vaccine booking from the B.C. government. Instead, it directs people to call solely based on their age.
A Sechelt resident, calling on behalf of her husband, told Coast Reporter she gave up after a few hours of calling without getting through because she received conflicting information from other sources that didn’t specify timelines are different on the Sunshine Coast. “I was up this morning trying to get through and of course phone lines crashed and I gave up around 10:30,” she said.
“Every day it’s different. Nobody seems to know what the left hand is doing, let alone the right hand.”
Coast Reporter has reached out to VCH for comment.