COVID-19 vaccine: No booking for cancer survivor with kidney failure

Vaccinations for anyone aged 16 or over are expected to start from the end of July.
Vaccinations for anyone aged 16 or over are expected to start from the end of July. Photo credit: Getty

Tess Brunton for RNZ

A Christchurch woman says she feels left in the dark after trying to arrange a vaccine for her immuno-compromised husband.

The vaccine rollout for people who are at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 started in May.

But some are struggling to access the vaccine.

That's raising concerns the number of Pzifer vaccines is drying up quickly - before the next deliveries are due.

Christchurch resident Anne Norriss has been on a mission to get her 72-year-old husband David vaccinated.

His GP told him if he caught COVID-19, he would die.

"He's immuno-compromised as a cancer survivor ... As a side effect that came in a year or more after the chemo is that it's caused heart failure. [During] the hospitalisation in March they weren't really sure what was going on, but after 10 days they determined that he was now in kidney failure," she said.

He fell into Group 3 of the government's rollout that got under way last month, but Anne Norriss said she felt stonewalled when she had tried to arrange a vaccine appointment for him.

In the last week, she has called the national COVID-19 hotline and the Christchurch COVID-19 vaccination number to no avail.

Norriss visited his GP on Tuesday with hopes of finding out what he needed to do to get one.

"And the GP just threw his hands up and said 'nothing to do with us. We're never going to be able to give it to you nor is the pharmacy next door that provides flu vaccinations and has done for yonks. It's nothing to do with us. Do not ask again'," she said.

"So when I asked David about it he just didn't have the answers to the questions like, why not."

The Canterbury DHB COVID-19 response executive lead Ralph La Salle said the DHB was sorry to hear of Mrs Norriss' experience and understood her concern for her husband.

It would take months to vaccinate Group 3 in Canterbury as there were more than 170,000 eligible people, he said.

"When it's someone's turn to book an appointment, they'll be contacted directly with instructions about how to book. This will be by text, email, letter or phone call.

"We ask that people in Group 3 who haven't yet been contacted please be patient. It's important to remember that there is no COVID-19 in our communities and our government has secured enough vaccine so everyone aged 16 and over can eventually be vaccinated."

The DHB had recently run ads in all local papers about this and had a dedicated vaccination website, La Salle said.

But Anne Norriss said this wasn't what she was told by either the COVID-19 hotline or her husband's GP, and she was even told to book an appointment in a different region.

"It's kind of like you've got to know someone or be someone in order to be shoulder tapped for a vaccine. It's not enough just to be sick as a dog or immuno-compromised I should better describe my husband as."

Royal New Zealand College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty had been hearing reports of eligible people not being aware of how to get a vaccine.

There appeared to be two main reasons.

"Number one - there is variability in what different DHBs are doing in terms of the groups of patients in sequence three accessing the vaccine. So that leads to some inconsistency in terms of what's out there."

Vaccine supply was the second reason.

"There is enough vaccine coming into the country but a lot of it is coming in now in July so the vaccine supply at the moment doesn't quite match the demand that is there for patients to get vaccines and in some areas patients are being restricted in their access to the vaccine just at this point until the vaccine becomes available in July," he said.

The Ministry of Health confirmed there was enough Pfizer vaccine for DHBs to stay on top of the more than half a million vaccinations over the next five weeks.

Supply to be carefully managed - Bloomfield

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said Pfizer has confirmed New Zealand would receive one million doses of the vaccine in July.

"We also continue to receive weekly vaccine supplies through June as well. Stocks will be tight for the next five weeks and we have planned carefully to manage our way through," he said.

"Current bookings will not be affected. But DHBs are likely to have to manage the rate of new bookings to ensure they are delivering in line with their current plans, where to date many have been running ahead of plan for some time."

The Ministry has asked DHBs to ensure people in Group 3 receive an invitation to be vaccinated by the end of July at the latest.

Vaccinations for anyone aged 16 or over are expected to start from the end of July.

Dr Bloomfield told Checkpoint that Nelson/Marlborough, Northland and Southern DHBs had been running ahead of plan.

Now it was important to ensure that all DHBs could vaccinate their priority groups and honour appointments already made.

He said the supply of 189,000 doses would be topped up weekly so there wasn't a danger of running out of the Pfizer before the 1m doses begin to arrive next month.

"We are not going to run out of Pfizer because as we should be, responsibly, we are making sure that we are working with the DHBs to deliver according to their plans...

"It's great we have been running ahead of schedule and now we're going to make sure that all DHBs are able to achieve what they're planning to achieve - 100 percent of their plans over the next five weeks."

The invitation to be vaccinated will come from GPs or DHBs and from mid-July the national booking system will be available which he is confident is on target.

Some DHBs are yet to vaccinate resthome residents and the Ministry of Health has asked them to ensure they have received at least a first dose by the end of June, Dr Bloomfield said.