Vaccine booster rollout got off to a ‘chaotic start’, expert says, with online reservations not yet available, clinic queues longer than 90 minutes and a rural town resident has left scratching his dose.
With the Omicron variant on the doorstep of New Zealand, the Kiwis have shown they want extra protection, with over half a million booster doses given since November 27, which is over 35%. of eligible people.
In December, the government announced it was reducing the interval between a second dose and a booster from six to four months, with the change taking effect on January 5.
Vaccination Advisory Center medical director Prof Nikki Turner said the change so close to vacation time led to confusion over who was eligible and a difficult start to the deployment.
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“The decision was really made before the system was in place to implement it,” she said.
“So there was a bit of confusion in the first two weeks before the ministry could put in place the proper process, which is now settled,” she said.
With walk-in clinics now available for those seeking their recall, the delay persists with the online reservation system, which is expected to be available from January 17.
Turner said it was a logistical issue of “trying to get things done quickly.”
“What I’m grateful for are many walk-in clinics across the country,” she said. “I really want to celebrate the front-line providers who allow people to come in because of this delay with a reservation system.”
In Wellington, a strong uptake of those seeking recalls led to supply issues, with some clinics temporarily not accepting walk-in visits. The health ministry said there is a lot of stock in the supply chain.
“With the high number of appointments, we are asking people to be patient,” a spokesperson said.
Chris Mitchell, managing director of Covid-19 response at Capital & Coast and Hutt Valley DHB, said the rise was similar to demand seen during Alert Levels 3 and 4 in August and September of last year.
“At this point, we have no planned mass vaccination events,” he said.
A spokesperson for the ministry said the delay in booking online was the result of operational changes, some of which were complex and across multiple systems.
This included updating the systems to accept four month recalls as valid entry; more training for vaccinators; and ensuring that there are enough doses of vaccine to meet demand.
On Monday, Kiri Ericsson and her daughter waited over 90 minutes, despite an appointment, at the Kilbirnie vaccination center.
“The queues were just outrageous,” she said.
Featherston resident Robyn Mills, who is eligible for her recall next week, was “absolutely surprised” when trying to book as she was told the nearest location did not have an appointment before the mid February.
The 61-year-old has only one-third of normal lung capacity and said her doctor told her, “If you catch Covid, it won’t end well for you.”
The only vaccination clinic in the town of South Wairarapa, at the Featherston Community Center, has been closed since Christmas Eve.
“It kind of surprised me because there will be a lot of people who will need a booster shot,” Mills said.
On Monday, the Wairarapa District Health Board announced two more vaccination clinics, one in Masterton and one in Carterton.
The DHB, which has been approached for comment, has a outreach vaccination program, but it is not clear if it is working.