Open letter to Albertans on next phase of COVID-19 immunization rollout

March 9, 2021

The next phase of Alberta’s COVID-19 immunization rollout will begin on March 10.

This is another step in a program that will eventually see every adult in Alberta receive at least one dose of vaccine by the end of June, should they choose to do so.

It is one more step towards the end of the pandemic, and a return to normal life.

With every dose administered, we reduce the pressure on our healthcare system, lower the risk of community spread, and further protect the health of Albertans. For now, we need to continue to adhere to public health measures, but mass immunization brings hope of further reductions of restrictions.

This stage of the vaccine rollout will be completed in phases, based on birth year.

Starting Wednesday, all Albertans born in 1957 will be able to book an immunization appointment using the AHS online booking tool, or by calling Health Link at 811.

In addition, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit born in 1972 will be able to book an immunization appointment by calling 811.

These two groups will be able to receive the Covishield/AstraZeneca at this time.

Covishield is the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, and considered the equivalent to AstraZeneca. This vaccine was recently approved by Health Canada. It is safe and effective, and will help protect you from COVID-19.

We have enough vaccine for these two groups, and every eligible person in these two groups who books an appointment will receive their first dose of the vaccine.

Following that – and, pending vaccine supply – additional Albertans will be offered a chance to book in the coming days, rolling one birth year at a time. If you are not yet eligible, please do not try and book an appointment during this phase of the rollout. We will let you know when it is your opportunity to book.

The vaccine rollout is a mammoth logistical task, and we anticipate very high demand for appointments tomorrow and throughout this week.

We acknowledge that there were issues with the recent rollout of immunizations for Albertans aged 75+, including technical difficulties with the online booking tool, and delays in reaching a Health Link booking staff member.

We have made significant efforts to ensure we are better prepared for this next phase of the rollout.

AHS has upgraded the online booking tool to increase capacity and make it easier for Albertans to book a COVID-19 immunization appointment.

We have added more servers to support the website and increase its processing power. More network bandwidth has also been added.

The tool is able to book approximately 100,000 appointments over a 24-hour period. You are able to book on behalf of others, and we are working on improvements that will allow multiple eligible Albertans to be booked at the same time.

Queuing technology has been added to the AHS online immunization booking tool. The tool will tell users if the wait time is longer than an hour, and will indicate how many people are in line ahead of you. This number could be substantial depending on how many people access the booking tool at the same time. If the wait time is longer than one hour when you enter the site, please considering trying again later in the day. There have been shorter waits in off times (after 5 p.m. and before 7 a.m.).

At Health Link, we have added staff to help support 811 respond to immunization booking calls, increasing capacity so that more calls can be answered at any given time. We have added a tool that will route those booking appointments away from those seeking healthcare advice, to ensure that people calling 811 for health reasons can speak to a nurse in a timely manner.

All of these improvements should go a long way to making it faster and easier for eligible Albertans to book their appointments. If a lot of people are calling to book appointments at the same time, callers may receive a busy signal. That indicates that all the booking staff and spots in the call queue are full at that time and you should call back at another time.

On Wednesday, and moving forward, we will need your help. Please consider waiting until later in the day to book an appointment, to help spread out demand on the online tool and on Health Link.

While we have increased capacity, if everyone tries to access those services at the same time, the queues will fill up and there will be delays. If people are patient and wait until less peak times, the system will work better and more people will have an improved experience.

Remember – there is enough vaccine for these two eligible groups to be immunized.

As we continue to rollout the vaccine program to more and more Albertans, AHS will continue to do all we can to streamline the system, improve the experience, and make it simpler and faster for people to get protected against COVID-19.