'Pissed off': More Auckland vaccine rollout issues ahead of national system

Adam Pearse, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 16 Jun 2021, 4:23PM
(Photo / Sylvie Whinray)
(Photo / Sylvie Whinray)

'Pissed off': More Auckland vaccine rollout issues ahead of national system

Adam Pearse, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 16 Jun 2021, 4:23PM

Aucklanders are coming forward with more issues concerning the region's Covid vaccine rollout, including vaccination centres being booked until August, records being lost and eight-week waits for a second jab.

These issues have prompted apologies from those heading the Auckland rollout alongside a plea for patience as vaccination capacity is boosted throughout the region.

It comes just a day before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to reveal details about the national vaccination booking system which would be used when the rollout extends to the general public from the end of July.

It was also confirmed on Tuesday that more than 110,000 people aged 65 and over in Auckland region will receive an invitation for vaccination by text or email by Friday.

All remaining Group 3 invitations, including the 164,000 Aucklanders who have underlying health conditions, will be sent by mid-July.

The NZ Herald received a flood of emails about these issues following an article on Auckland's Peter Donnelly who, after having his first vaccination, found he had been scrubbed from the recording database and his second jab booking voided.

While rearranging his second jab, he was told by Covid helpline staff that the earliest appointment he could book at certain Auckland vaccination centres would be towards the end of July.

It appears Donnelly's experience isn't an outlier, with some people now being told centres are booked out as far as mid-August.

Ryan (not his real name) told the Herald his 82-year-old father, who lived with a serious lung condition, was told mid-August was the earliest he could book at the Birkenhead centre, the closest site to his North Shore home.

When Ryan's father asked whether he could get an earlier appointment at another centre, he was allegedly advised it was safer for him to wait, given his health.

It was in stark contrast to Ryan's experience in Rotorua where he contacted his DHB and was vaccinated within four days.

People line up for vaccinations at the Henderson site in Auckland. Photo / Supplied

People line up for vaccinations at the Henderson site in Auckland. Photo / Supplied

Josephine Ellis, a 73-year-old from Meadowbank, called the Covid helpline to book her appointment after she hadn't been contacted while her friends in other areas had been.

She booked for June 25 but spoke of her over 70-year-old friend who couldn't get an appointment at the Westgate centre until August 5.

Ellis was concerned that some older people weren't as confident about booking vaccination appointments if they weren't contacted first.

Theresa, 69 and husband Graeme, 72, received texts to make their booking online. However, Theresa said the text didn't contain enough information to successfully complete a booking.

"There'd be a lot of elderly people who wouldn't have a clue in hell," she said.

Upon calling the helpline, Theresa was told June and July were booked out at the Westgate centre. Not in a rush to be vaccinated, Theresa said August would be fine but helpline staff were unable to register the pair as that month's booking sheet wasn't available.

Fortunately, Theresa was able to book an appointment at Henderson for August 2 when she called the helpline again.

A Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) spokesperson admitted it was possible some people in rollout priority groups 1-3 may be waiting until August for their jab.

However, the spokesperson noted four new community centres would open by the end of June in Albany, Tamaki, Pukekohe and Takanini, which would help.

"If people can be flexible on where they want to be vaccinated then they should be able to get earlier appointments."

An immunocompromised 70-year-old man, who contacted the Herald, had his first jab on May 17 and was told a text would be sent within 48 hours regarding a second jab.

Eight days with no message, he rang the helpline to find - similar to Donnelly - that his information from his first jab had vanished from the records.

The man was later booked for his second jab on June 17 and received a confirmation text on June 9. However, to add to the confusion, he received a text the following day, asking him to book his first jab.

Similarly confusing text messages were sent to Robin Houlker and her 92-year-old mother, who both received exemplary treatment from staff during their first vaccinations on May 29.

Two days after, the pair received multiple texts asking them to make first jab appointments.

The Henderson vaccination site is reportedly one of the busiest in Auckland. Photo / SuppliedThe Henderson vaccination site is reportedly one of the busiest in Auckland. Photo / Supplied

Manurewa's Dave Thompson and his wife - both in their 70s - received a text and email to book their first vaccinations for Monday, choosing the nearby Manurewa Marae as their preferred location.

However, two days before their jabs, the Thompsons were sent another text cancelling their appointments and advising them that a Covid helpline staffer would call them to rebook.

"She told me repeatedly that the Manurewa vaccination centre was overbooked and she needed to rebook me at Highbrook, Mt Wellington, Mangere or Airport Oaks," Thompson said.

"My repeated response was that they were too far away and that wasn't going to happen when there was a perfectly good vaccination centre about 1km from home."

Despite another call from a manager, Thompson didn't budge and was given no promises their appointments would be honoured.

After threatening to go to the media on Saturday, Thompson received an email on Sunday that his and his wife's appointments for Monday had been reinstated.

"As far as the experience is concerned, I'm totally pissed off.

"Now we've got appointments for second vaccinations and I'm waiting to see what's going to go wrong this time."

The NRHCC spokesperson apologised to anyone who had received a text in error, saying "frailties in the system" had been identified.

The national booking system, which had been trialled across Auckland sites, would soon replace DHB systems when the general public vaccine rollout began.

Anja and her husband Gerard, who are 71 and 73 respectively, had their first vaccinations on May 31 as walk-ins at the Henderson centre, and were told they would be contacted to make a second appointment.

Within a few days, she received a text but couldn't navigate the booking system and eventually rang the Covid helpline. Told to ring back closer to the three-week period, Plaisier did so on Thursday and was told the earliest appointment was July 26 at Westgate - eight weeks after her first dose.

"One week I get told it was too early and then I get told July 26," she said.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said the interval between first and second doses was not important in a New Zealand context as the virus was not circulating in the community.

The argument to get a second jab as soon as possible - three weeks for Pfizer - was it would boost a person's immune response to the virus.

While the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has said the Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines "may be administered up to six weeks", Baker said there was no evidence a longer interval would make any difference to immunity.

Covid-19 vaccination programme general manager clinical Dr Juliet Rumball-Smith said there was limited data on vaccine efficacy when a larger gap was observed between doses, but this could change as more information was available.

However, she said anyone who received a second dose far later than their first didn't need to restart their vaccine course.

The NRHCC spokesperson again apologised to those who had been frustrated while trying to book and receive their vaccinations.

"A programme of this size and scale has not been implemented here before and we are sorry if people have found it frustrating.

"We urge people to be patient, they will get an appointment and there will be enough vaccine for everyone."