Our Ottawa H1N1 Vaccine Experience

Newspapers, talk radio programs, and online forums are buzzing with stories about the first few days of the H1N1 vaccination rollout in Ottawa. We braved the crowds yesterday at the Vanier clinic (Vanier Richelieu Community Centre, 300 Des Pères Blancs) to get the boys vaccinated. While everyone’s experience may differ, here’s how our afternoon went.

12:00: I check the Ottawa Public Health Twitter feed , which says there are about 40 people in line in Vanier, compared to 500 at the Kanata location. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

2:00 pm: B arrives with the boys and gets numbers (693 to 697). The parking lot is already full, and the local side streets are starting to fill up. There must be at least 150 people in line ahead of them.

2:20 pm: I get off the bus and walk up the street to meet them. The line stretches for hundreds of feet. Strollers are everywhere, and several people are wearing masks. Are they sick, or just being extra cautious?

2:30 pm: The line is not moving at all. It leads to a couple of tents, and I picture a M.A.S.H. unit – the boys will like that. Young children are playing makeshift games of catch and tag in the drizzle.

2:47 pm: B waits in line while I head over to the Vanier library with the boys. It’s warm and surprisingly quiet upstairs, and we spend an hour reading books (Freight Train, Alphabet Fruits and Vegetables, I Stink, The House That Drac Built, How Did Dinosaurs Get So Big, etc.)

3:06 pm: The latest Twitter update says the wait time at Vanier is 2 hours. We’ve been there for an hour already, so maybe it will be our turn soon.

4:00 pm. The boys are back outside running around in the field. After two hours, we’ve finally made it to the first tent. The door opens, and it’s crowded and filled with the sounds of cranky toddlers. No needles here – just paperwork. Sigh. (FYI, you can print out the form in advance by clicking here, but really, it’s not as if you’re going to save tons of time).

4:22 pm: B texts me to say it will be at least an hour until she gets to the next tent. Sitting in a confined space with the boys for that long is a recipe for disaster, so I take them back to the library for more reading.

5:10 pm: B moves from the first tent to the second tent, which turns out to be just another place to sit and wait. Every few minutes some numbers get called and a few families move into the building. We’re told it will take about 90 minutes to get from the second tent to the vaccination room.

5:45 pm: Things seem to be moving a little faster than expected, and our number is called. We grab our bags and move into the actual building, where we are directed to another room to sit and wait for our number to be called again. It’s been nearly four hours now.

5:55 pm: A volunteer calls out the number 565. The room erupts in chatter as everyone has a number starting with a 6. The man looks flustered, checks his list, and corrects himself. People are being very patient, but fatigue is starting to set in for both the toddlers and the parents.

6:10 pm: Our number is called, and we move to the next room, which is registration. I entertain the boys while B gives the nurse our paperwork and signs the consent forms.

6:15 pm: We’ve made it to the final line, which snakes around the corner. The vending machine beside us is almost completely empty, giving rise to cries of “I’m hungry” from the boys.

6:35 pm: We’re finally around the corner and we can see the vaccination room. There are stairs leading down, which presents some problems for the dozens of strollers around us. I count ten nurses administering the vaccine.

6:45 pm: We’re in the room and standing in the final line. A young girl around six years old is cowering under a chair and screaming while her mother tries to coax her out – it’s a battle of wills that will rage for the next 20 minutes. Other toddlers are crying at the sight of the needle. Welcome to hell.

7:00 pm: After five hours, A is sitting in the chair to get his needle. The nurse turns to me and says “he’ll have to come back in three weeks for the booster shot”. Fantastic.

7:11 pm: It’s K’s turn for the needle. He goes from happy to slightly-frantic crying in seconds. He clutches his stuffed animal and buries his face in B’s shoulder. Five minutes later he’s fine.

7:22 pm: Five hours and 22 minutes after we first stood in line, we head back to the car. I was expecting a parking ticket, which would have been a perfect end to the day.

Obviously it is far from a perfect system – airports seem efficient and civilized in comparison. There’s already a lot of finger-pointing and second-guessing, and I’m not going to add my voice to the chorus. Hopefully they’ll identify issues and make improvements to the process in the coming days.

If you have children and are going to one of the clinics, here are a few tips:

• If you can manage it, both parents should go. One can wait in line while the other entertains the kids. Even the most angelic children will have difficulty with the wait time.

• Take lots of snacks and water – you’re going to be there for a while, and it give the kids something to do for at least a few minutes.

• Take the Twitter updates with a grain of salt – we were told two hours, and we ended up waiting nearly three times that long.

For more information on the City of Ottawa’s H1N1 vaccination clinics, including addresses and hours, click here.

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One thought on “Our Ottawa H1N1 Vaccine Experience

  1. The person standing in line may also appreciate having a lawn chair.

    PLUS, there is major opportunity for entrepreneurial types willing to walk up and down the line selling hot drinks and snacks (or the philanthropic type willing to give them away).

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