B.C. promises more streamlined process after some pregnant people unable to book boosters

Vancouver –

They face a higher risk from COVID-19, but some pregnant British Columbians who are supposed to be prioritized for booster shots have been finding it difficult to book one if they’re not exactly six months past their second dose, even if their due date is imminent.

On Tuesday, the province said it’s now working to fix that.

Camille Ottenhof of Victoria is 39 weeks pregnant, and a week away from her due date. She said she began the process of trying to get a booster shot after the province announced pregnant people would be prioritized on Dec. 31.

“My six month eligibility is on Jan. 26, but my due date is Jan. 18,” she said. “I called the vaccination line…and identified myself as pregnant and I was told that I was going to have to wait until my six month eligibility, and that was the end of that.”

Ottenhof tried calling again after seeing posts online by others who were also expecting and had managed to get an appointment, and was eventually told she would receive an email that would allow her to book, but that email never arrived.

So she called back again, and again.

“All told, I did five to six calls to the COVID line without being able to be booked in,” she said. “It was a very daunting and frustrating process.”

Ottenhof tried calling a local pharmacy directly, but was also told she wouldn’t be able to book until her six-month mark had passed. She finally was able to get a shot by showing up at a vaccination clinic that was offering drop-in visits.

“I think it’s too bad that there’s emphasis being put on that six months when it’s very arbitrary,” she said. “I wish that there was just better communication with the call-takers about how to be able to prioritize people in similar situations to me.”

Julie MacArthur has a high-risk pregnancy and is expecting twins in the spring. She’ll be six months from her second dose next week, and had a similar experience of calling the vaccination line over and over without being able to book right away.

“The first time I called…I was told they made a note in my system and I would expect an email or text within 24 to 48 hours,” she said. “That never happened, so I called again.”

MacArthur said at other times, she was told she couldn’t get her booster before six months, and would have to wait.

“The story changed slightly every time I called,” she said, and added the last time she ended up spending an hour on the phone before she was finally able to book an appointment. “He went back to his supervisor twice, and eventually said OK, I can get you a spot a week from now.”

MacArthur has now received her booster, but would like to see a more straight forward process.

“Yes, I got my booster, which is wonderful, but again in a way that was extremely stressful,” she said. “It is possible but it’s complete luck of the draw and tenacity, that many less resourced, less stubborn, more overwhelmed people might not have and that inequity I think is very problematic.”

The Society of Obstetrcians and Gynaecologists of Canada supports a shorter window for eligibility those who are pregnant, according to CEO Dr. Diane Francoeur.

“We wish that all provinces could prioritize pregnant women as we recommend and get the third dose after three months,” she said. “The only reason I see is not enough staff to vaccinate and not enough doses, but I would be surprised because from what we hear they have enough vaccine.”

On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said while the ideal interval before a booster is still six months, she is aware of the concerns surrounding booking for those who are pregnant.

“Our system is quite rigid around the 182 days, so I’ve been working with our team to make sure that we have more flexibility for pregnant people,” she said. “We want them to be able to access vaccination at a time when it benefits both them but also their child, so that we can transfer antibodies to the baby before they’re born, and that protects them in the first few months of life.”

Henry promised a more streamlined process, and encouraged people to call the line again to book an appointment.