Health unit reassures parents online booking system is safe

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Windsor, Photo by Mark Brown,

Following word on social media that a local group was planning to sabotage the online booking system, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit wants to reassure parents they will be able to book appointments to get their young children vaccinated against COVID-19.

The group, Stand Up Together, said it planned to flood the booking portal with fake appointments, effectively blocking parents hoping to get a timely vaccination for their child. It also said it would demonstrate outside the mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Thursday just as children aged 5 to 11 start getting their vaccinations.

Several public figures condemned the actions, including Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj, who said it was tantamount to blocking access to healthcare. He also called it “repugnant.” Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk called it “vile.”

Windsor Police say they are aware of the planned protest and will be present.

However, health unit CEO Nicole Dupuis said hacking the online system won’t be so easy. The website already has many safeguards in place to prevent people from making false appointments.

“Keep in mind, it does make it more cumbersome for the individuals who truly do want to make a vaccination appointment,” she said. “We will continue to monitor, and we may, as well, follow up and verify appointments. It does take extra resources for us to do that.”

At times during the pandemic, the health unit has found itself stretched thin to meet its obligations. In the past, it has drawn on help from other public health units and the province. It only recently restarted some public health programs it put on hold.

Acting Medical Officer of Health Doctor Shanker Nesathurai said he respects peaceful protest, but sabotaging the booking system goes far beyond.

“Regardless of how you feel about public health policy or vaccination policy, inappropriately using a public resource to impact people just trying to get their health services is not proper,” he said. “That’s different from disagreeing with public policy.”

He also asked protesters to consider the impact their demonstration will have on young children and respect the rights of parents who choose to vaccinate their kids.

“The parents who bring their children to a vaccination centre or a doctor’s office or a school should not have their children face additional psychological stress,” said Nesathurai, who has repeatedly acknowledged that kids have had to endure disproportionately higher impacts from COVID-19.

He noted close to 500 cohorts, or as many as 10,000 students, have been dismissed from school because of COVID-19 cases.

Two schools are closed because of rising case counts, and seven others have outbreaks.

Nesathurai has said in the past the best way to prevent school closures is to get vaccinated. He also told reporters Wednesday morning if vaccination rates among school-aged children reach the same level as other communicable diseases, the health unit could safely lift more public health restrictions.

On Wednesday, the health unit reported an additional 64 cases of COVID-19. Over one-third resulted from close contact with a previously confirmed case, and 20 are from community transmission. One is travel-related, and 19 are still under investigation.

It also reported another death in the community, a man in his 70s, raising the death toll from March 2020 to 470.

There are 374 active cases across Windsor-Essex, and 22 people are in the hospital with the virus.

So far, 83.3 per cent of residents over the age of 12 have had both doses of the vaccine.

The mass vaccination clinic remains open for walk-in appointments for those who want their first or second dose.