Northland Covid-19 vaccinations struggle with huge demand

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 4 May 2021

Northlanders are waiting on the phone for hours as they try to book appointments for their Covid-19 vaccine - while older people are being turned away as they attempt walk-in appointments.

Te Tai Tokerau opened up its vaccine eligibility to include anyone over 50 last week to try to get more people across the line.

It was the worst performing of all the DHBs in Covid-19 vaccination figures out last week, almost 4000 doses short of its target.

But the change in eligibility has caused huge pressure on booking systems and frustration that those with high-risk factors are not being seen.

Today, Whangārei woman Gay, who is 78-years-old, was among those turned away from Semenoff Stadium because she did not have an appointment at the vaccine clinic.

She said that was not for a lack of trying.

"I spent all day yesterday, from 9am to 4.30pm, every half or quarter of an hour ringing, so I thought I would come down here the next day but they're booked. I can't get a booking and they can't tell me how to get a booking."

She said she had brought proof she and her husband had health risks.

"People [who] are 50 are getting done but I can't?"

Popi Tahere was also turned away from a walk-in appointment after having no luck on the phone.

"I just can't get in. It's like everyone else I think, jammed up."

He was not worried about missing out today and said he would just come back again when he could.

Te Hau Ora Ō Ngāpuhi chief executive Te Ropu Poa said older people should not be being turned away from vaccine clinics - and there was still confusion around messaging. 

She said people weren't sure who was eligible when - and how they could access the shot.

A sign at Whangārei's Semenoff Stadium where the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is facing huge demand.

A sign at Whangārei's Semenoff Stadium where the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is facing huge demand. Photo: Facebook / Rachel Going

"There's targets that need to be met and it seems obvious that one day a week in Kaikohe [clinic] may not be enough and so we need to be open to review to accommodate the need in terms of our communities."

She said the limited hours of the booking phone line may also be a problem.

Northland Grey Power representative Ron Thompson called on health officials to get their act together and bring GPs in on the rollout.

"It's a shambles. I've got a good mate... he's been trying to phone them. He's got a serious problem - an anuerysm problem and he's petrified of that. He wants to get his injection to cover all bases.

"And he can't get any satisfaction on the phone, his wife sent emails, and emails haven't been answered."

Thompson had also heard from two other men who could not get a vaccination booked.

"Now I'm finding there's been people down there queuing. They've waited two to three hours. That's ridiculous. Why can't our local doctors send the number of patients or clients they've got into a control centre and just process it. With these computers these can do everything."

Local GP Dr Andrew Miller said he was hearing complaints from staff and patients around the vaccine rollout.

"Knowing that the system's now not seeing walk-ins, they're trying to actually book a time and finding it difficult to get through and get a time to get it done. There's a fair amount of frustration."

He put the problems down to a lack of communication and resources.

"We have a willing workforce in primary care - pharmacy, general practice and Māori providers - who are asking for access to the immunisation register, the booking system and for being able to get the vaccine, because we're experts at vaccination.

"So we've got a willing workforce, we've got a needy community wanting it and, at the moment, through a lack of resources and it looks like some less than ideal communication, we aren't getting where we want to be."

In a statement, Northland DHB Chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain said demand for the vaccine had been greater than expected - and the response was extremely heartening.

He said 15,667 calls were received at the 0800 booking number since 24 February, with an average of 364 calls per day. 

"Of this 199 (1.3 percent) calls were unanswered and the team are doing their very best to continue to improve this."

Dr Chamberlain said the number of people answering the 0800 number had increased and another team was managing email requests, with the DHB looking to set up a call centre early next week.

"Our vaccinating capacity will be increased as Māori Health Providers, pharmacies and general practice start to provide the vaccination service over the coming months," he said.

There have been 10,238 doses have been administered so far in Northland - 8,575 people have received their first dose; 1,663 have completed their second dose. 

Northland DHB's highest number of vaccinations so far was last Wednesday when it administered 888 shots.