An Auckland vaccination site is being described as a "shambles" after an 81-year-old was turned away from her pre-booked appointment when the site closed temporarily yesterday due to a lack of space.
Wendy Carpenter and her mother Robin Cornish arrived at the Highbrook site just before the 11am appointment yesterday to find a long queue of cars stretching along Highbrook Rd.
But, despite waiting in a queue for nearly half an hour, they were told the site had to close due to a lack of carparks.
"[It's] frustrating, it was a shambles" Carpenter told the Herald.
"It didn't look organised or in control at all to me."
The frustrating incident comes as multiple Auckland vaccination sites are trialling walk-in vaccinations, a protocol which goes against current Ministry of Health advice that an appointment is necessary - prompting a call of concern from an expert vaccinologist.
Now there are fears some people will be put off having a vaccination if they are turned away from a pre-booked appointment the first time.
While the Highbrook site was only closed for 30 minutes before it was reopened, Carpenter said she was never told to wait by staff. They would have if the option was offered.
She said her mother, who was already nervous about getting vaccinated, was clearly shaken being in such close proximity to heavy traffic rumbling along the road and that the experience had convinced her not to get vaccinated.
"My mum doesn't want to go back. She's really upset and she was really stressed.
"We can't let this happen; we've got to get our elderly people vaccinated."
Their experience echoed similar complaints reported in recent weeks about the disruption people with appointments were enduring because of high demand.
The Highbrook site began vaccinating people without bookings late last week.
Northern Region Vaccination Programme lead Matt Hannant apologised to those impacted by yesterday's closure, which was forced by capacity issues and impact on local businesses and traffic.
"We're really sorry that we turned away an elderly person who came for their vaccination," he said.
"At the time they arrived, the carpark was full and there was a health and safety issue with cars entering and exiting the carpark."
He said traffic management would be improved to ensure people could access their vaccinations in a smoother fashion.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he didn't want people leaving vaccination sites feeling as Cornish did and encouraged site managers to use discretion when prioritising people for vaccination.
At another Auckland vaccination site, a staff member said people without appointments were regularly vaccinated when bookings were low, with as many as 200 walk-ins being vaccinated daily on top of the roughly 600 people with appointments.
The staffer - who expressed frustration at the mixed messaging - said it was sometimes dependent on what manager was at the site as to whether people without bookings were vaccinated.
She said some managers strictly adhered to the national advice, while some were more lenient - allowing walk-ins to be vaccinated when bookings were scarce.
The vaccine was currently being rolled out to the Ministry of Health's Group 3 - people who are at risk of getting very sick from Covid-19. However, it was clear that at the site, people in group four (general population) could be offered a vaccine. Vaccination of that group wasn't set to start until July.
Staff at another Auckland site would not let people without an appointment in yesterday.
However, a staffer said towards the end of the day, if there was vaccine remaining, people without bookings could get a vaccine with some staff actively searching for nearby people to offer a vaccine to.
Hannant said site leaders were asked to take a pragmatic approach to walk-ins, balancing them against booking quantity.
"We don't want to be in a position where we have vaccine leftover either. If we are in that position, we often invite people in at short notice to ensure there is no wastage."
Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said it was a difficult task to predict how many vaccines would be used per day which complicated whether to allow walk-ins. However, she expressed concern at how national advice was conflicting with people's experiences.
"I feel for the staff and the people trying to find their way through the system, which is clearly resulting in a lot of frustration," she said.
"It could get quite messy and I could see a situation where there are very mixed messages."
Petousis-Harris said she had heard about similar experiences being reported from other sites across the country.
Acknowledging there was always going to be teething problems, Petousis-Harris believed the Ministry of Health should refine its advice to more closely match the procedure being carried out by vaccination staff.