COVID-19: Vaccine pass helpline swamped by calls as traffic light system looms

By Sam Olley of RNZ

Long waits, cut-offs, and unanswered messages are leaving callers to the COVID-19 vaccine pass helpline helpless.

More than 1.75 million people have successfully got their QR code domestic certification since the My Vaccine Pass site went live a week ago.

But the helpline is being swamped, having had 30,000 calls yesterday alone.

Aucklander Jodie Drummond has tried the helpline "almost every hour" for the past week, to no avail.

She was locked out of the system when she put the wrong driver licence number in for ID.

"I've phoned and phoned and phoned. I've made over 100 phone calls now, in the last week, to try and get help. I've sent 60-something emails just trying to bombard them to just get a response," she said. "I've been on their COVDapp on Facebook and tried to get some response. Still nothing."

She needs to make an urgent trip to her dying father when Aucklanders are let out on  December 15.

"I've got a father in palliative care in Blenheim that I desperately want to get down and see. So I'm not going to be able to board a flight, without it [the vaccine pass]."

Frankton resident Monique Harvey is double-vaxxed but only one dose is showing up on her record.

She has tried the helpline up to 50 times a day.

"Most of the time it says the call failed, so I honestly sit there and just keep pressing the callback button," she said.

"Next week I'm travelling up to Nelson for work and then we go into the traffic light system while I'm away - Are they going to let me get on the plane?"

On Wednesday, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins gave assurances that a backlog of calls on Monday had been mostly resolved.

"People might have to wait a little bit but they should be able to get through and they should be able to get the answers through that 0800 number," he told the 1pm briefing.

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: The AM Show

But when RNZ called the helpline in the hours before and after the stand-up, the "please try again later" automated message played.

Automatic replies from the email help service have asked people to be patient, due to "extremely high volumes in the support channel".

Auckland resident Vanisa Narayan has been repeatedly trying to get help for her partner.

He has an overseas ID that the My Vaccine Pass site won't recognise, and he needs a pass to sit a driving test for a new job.

"We've already been waiting for a couple of months now since lockdown, but he couldn't get his licence. He was booked in for his test the same week we went into lockdown."

Nelson resident Lisa Bridson was vaccinated overseas but the site won't acknowledge that.

When she finally got through to a support person on the phone, they told her she needed help from her GP - which she got - but she is still yet to get a pass.

"I just want to know, when we have our staff Christmas party next month, am I going to be the only one turned away at the door?

"Or at my birthday next month, all my family will be able to go out and celebrate - I'd like to be able to go out to restaurants with my family.

"I've done all the right things. I just want some surety that's going to work."

Despite the ranging glitches, there was one thing all of the helpline users told RNZ - that problem was the tech and resourcing, not the staff.

Sue Hazlewood, whose email wasn't recognised by the system, said when she finally got through her problem was solved.

"I am not blaming the staff. It's the system they've been given that's probably not well thought out or trialled. So I feel completely sorry for them."

Vaccine passes are valid for six months from their issue date.

RNZ