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COLUMN SIX | Vaccine vexation

I read somewhere that positive thinking and laughter will keep you in touch with your inner self and strengthen your immune system. If that shot in the arm doesn’t work for you then maybe you should get the vaccine.
The author gets his jab. SUPPLIED

I read somewhere that positive thinking and laughter will keep you in touch with your inner self and strengthen your immune system. If that shot in the arm doesn’t work for you then maybe you should get the vaccine.

I received my first Pfizer dose last week, but getting there cost me a good deal of positivity and didn’t provide many laughs.

On the day the Ontario government opened up vaccine bookings for my age group I went online first thing. In minutes I had entered my health card details and cruised my way through to the appointments calendar.

I hit a wall.

The calendar was unresponsive. It had zero vital signs, and not in a good way. Like Monty Python’s parrot the calendar was bereft of life, had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

I went back and tried again. Several times. Same result. I spent a good part of the morning trying to pick the lock. I ran through all of April and May, at centres in St Catharines, Beamsville and Grimsby.


I switched from Safari to Firefox and back again. Meanwhile my friends were posting how positively easy it all was. One got an appointment for ten o’clock that same morning. Several got appointments at Brock, others at Seymour Hannah, neither of which even showed on my list of centres that, according to my ex-calendar, had miraculously filled up in minutes.

My own positivity tank was empty and I was running on fumes. I made myself laugh out loud a couple times to keep my immune system ticking over. Then I called the government hotline.

The menu alone lasted six minutes before I was put on hold. The musical accompaniment was a jazz trumpet thing playing on a very short loop and interrupted every five minutes by a voice telling me to stay on the line because my call was important to them.

An hour later someone came on the line, but being almost comatose by now, I didn’t respond.

“Hello, are you there?” the voice said. I came to with a start and began to describe my predicament.

The woman confessed to being unable to access any Niagara centres.

“We don’t have that information here in Ottawa,” she explained. “I would guess you can’t get a day or a time because they’re all booked.”

“But how is that possible when they only became available this morning?”

Though now I began to wonder if all the spots had actually filled up in the time I’d spent on hold.

“I mean I tried first thing this morning and couldn’t get an appointment all the way through to June.”

“That does seem strange,” she said. “Let me try Hamilton. Can you hold for a moment?”

A minute later she came back on.

“Okay, I can get you in at First Ontario Centre in Hamilton tomorrow at 5:40. Will that work?”

I nearly wept. I thanked her profusely, then pinched myself, partly to check that this really had happened and partly to raise my pain threshold in anticipation of the needle. I asked about the second jab and she told me that was also booked for me.

“When will it be?”

“July 21st.”

“But that’s four months from now. Aren’t they supposed to be three weeks apart?”

“Not any more.”

I refrained from asking if the extended time period had to do with insufficient supplies because I didn’t want to appear ungrateful. She had already sent an email confirming the details of my appointment and so I thanked her again and signed off.

My vaccine experience in Hamilton made up for all the frustration and sent my positivity level to an all-time high.

There were more staff than patients, all wearing colour-coded vests and all of them welcoming and smiling broadly. I couldn’t actually see them smiling broadly because they all wore masks, but their positivity was palpable. And infectious. My immune system was on steroids. Did I even need the vaccine? Well, I’d come this far so what the heck.

I was directed through a sequence of stations, confirming my identity, filling out disclaimers and agreeing to all conditions until I ended up at the desk where I was to receive my jab.

Dr. Parascandalo greeted me with a smile (I just knew), explained the procedure and asked if I had any questions.

“Um, is there anything I shouldn’t do after I get this?”

“No sex for six months,” he said with a straight face.

“You mean until after the second jab.”

He laughed, which I took as a good sign. I had brought my camera along, and he got his partner, Dr. Szarka, to take the picture while he inoculated me.

Fifteen minutes later I walked out of the centre feeling immortal. I drove home feeling grateful for the many staff who had already put seven hours of their shift behind them and still made me feel that I mattered.

As for my exasperating day on the computer and telephone it seems I was not alone, as many Niagara residents experienced the same frustrations. Niagara’s Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, said the Region is working with the province to let them know about the problems and “they’re working to try and figure out what’s happened. If people are having trouble getting into clinics I ask them to be patient, try again in a couple of hours and hopefully it’s going to start working again.”

In other words, think positively.