A retiree who tried to book his Covid-19 vaccination online was stunned to be informed that the nearest available centre was in the United States, around 13,000km away.
Peter Farrant, a 64-year-old retired civil engineer, has been left dismayed and frustrated at what he says were a series of blunders while trying to protect himself from the global pandemic.
Even after he finally got the jab last week, he received an invitation from the Ministry of Health (MoH) on Monday asking him to book a slot.
His trouble started on June 9 when he received a text message from the ministry saying, “You and your whānau are now able to have your Covid-19 vaccination”.
The alert advised he could book a slot for the free shot online.
But when he logged on, looking to book for both himself and his wife, confusion ensued.
After entering both their home address in Kaiapoi, just north of Christchurch, and his unique booking code, Farrant was told there were no centres within 50km of their house – and was then directed to an available centre at Elkland, Missouri, USA.
“We weren’t in a hurry so it wasn’t a critical thing but it was both annoying and amusing, to some degree,” said Farrant.
Peter Farrant has been left frustrated by his experiences. Photo / George Heard
Concerned that they’d had reactions to influenza vaccinations in the past, the Farrants wanted assurances that staff would be on hand to deal with any issues.
He phoned a provided 0800 number, but “a pleasant voice… employed by Canterbury District Health Board” said they couldn’t help as they only did bookings, and suggested he contact the MoH.
Farrant says he was then told that he could only book an appointment for himself, and that his wife of 43 years was not considered part of his whānau.
The MoH said they could not help and redirected him back to the CDHB.
His frustration increased when he phoned the main Christchurch Hospital number and was referred again to the free phoneline.
His GP, although sympathetic, was also unable to help, leaving Farrant to complain through the CDHB website.
“Within a couple of days, I was phoned by a senior contractor who was engaged to help set up the vaccination process,” Farrant said.
“He was very helpful and fully supported our need to seek clarification of facilities for our specific needs.”
Another senior member of the Canterbury Covid-19 team also got involved along with a senior doctor who informed them what procedures would be in place for any reactions that might arise.
With his final vaccination appointment confirmed in Canterbury, he tried the online application again, out of his own interest, and was bemused to find that he was again directed to America – this time North Little Rock, Arkansas.
While Farrant has nothing but high praise for vaccination teams and others “at the coalface”, he’s been left dismayed by the system.
“It’s just a mess. The whole system, administratively, is in total disarray,” he said.
Astrid Koornneef, the ministry’s Covid-19 vaccination operations group manager, said some people in Group 3 have “experienced issues” when using access codes sent before the booking system went live to the general public on July 28.
“This gave the impression there are no available appointments. This is not the case,” Koornneef said.
Ralph Lasalle, the CDHB’s Covid-19 vaccination programme senior responsible officer, added: “We have received questions and feedback via email from thousands of Cantabrians which we have responded to – the majority from people in Group 3 wanting to book their vaccination.”
The Ministry of Health says anyone needing help should call the Covid Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26, while the Healthline – open from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week – can make vaccination bookings for people and answer questions they have about the vaccine.
“There’s no cut-off time to make your booking and we have enough vaccine for everyone eligible to be fully vaccinated by the end of the year,” Koornneef said.