To say that the vaccine rollout has been confusing is certainly an understatement.
Highlights include the controversial decision to redirect Pfizer doses from rural NSW to Sydney Year 12 students, some GPs charging $250 for vaccine ‘consultations’, people being scammed into making ineligible vaccination bookings and even GPs themselves reporting confusion resulting from inconsistent government vaccine advice.
The good news? The Australian government’s finally taking the vaccine rollout seriously – understanding that it unequivocally is a race (especially against the climbing national covid case numbers, now nearing 27,000).
There’s clearly many dimensions to the vaccine rollout blunder, but this article will be going over my booking experience (and friends and family I’ve spoken to) and the accompanying frustrations.
Headaches: So Many Booking Websites
New vaccination hubs opening are a good thing. The confusing registration system(s)? Not so much. The first website I used was the NSW Health Vaccination Portal aka nswhvam (written about in this article).
I booked my Pfizer jabs at the end of July, and the earliest dates for my 1st and 2nd jabs were mid-October and early November respectively (this was before the daily cases were in the 1,000+ range). While there were some usability issues, this was still helpful as it allowed you to book different clinics from the same website.
Early August, media outlets reported on a website called CovidQueue, which would helpfully ping users with a notification when new appointment slots were available at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Westmead Hospital, St Vincent Hospital and Sydney Olympic Hub.
The person behind this was Fraser Hemphill – a software engineer who made it during his free time because his “nurse friend” told him he was struggling to book a jab. To reiterate, this was a software dev who made this as a side project because his friend, a government healthcare worker, was finding it difficult to book a vaccine. Unfortunately, the website no longer appears functional.
When I wanted to try booking an earlier appointment at the Sydney Olympic Park vaccination centres, I was redirected again to another online registration system (automed,), which I needed to again enter personal details and verify for an account on that system. I didn’t end up being able to book earlier appointments than the ones I’d initially made on nswhvam.
Later, another vaccine booking website also popped up in my feed: the Sydney Local Health District site, offering bookings for three different clinics. Though much easier on the eyes in terms of presenting booking availabilities, it only offered appointment slots at 3 clinics as opposed to the 14 on nswhvam – despite this, I was able to book my appointments 2 weeks earlier.
By this point, I’m sure you’re getting the gist of how frustrating it become navigating through all these different booking websites, but the story continues…
Difficulties Encountered Booking GP
With the rising daily cases and not wanting to wait another 6 weeks to get my first jab, I turned to other options. A friend suggested I check my local GPs to see if any of them were offering Pfizer.
Searching for exactly that, google pointed me to HotDoc.
I called the first one. “Are you an existing patient of this practice?” they asked. I wasn’t. They told me they weren’t offering vaccines to patients who hadn’t been to the practice before, because “people from 20km away have been calling to try and book vaccine appointments”, and that it’d be at least 6-8 weeks before they offered it to new patients.
The second one I managed to reach by phone told me that they’d run out of vaccines, and it’d be over a month before they would be resupplied.
The rest of the practices I tried contacting all had automated voice messages stating that all covid vaccination appointments could be made on their website only. On all the websites I tried, they either just had “no availabilities”, no GPs offering Pfizer, or with a earliest appointment slot in late November or December.
They clearly weren’t taking new patients, and I was running low on patience. When I had exhausted the options within a 5km radius, I gave up.
Eventually when I was seeing my local GP for an appointment (not listed on HotDoc as offering vaccines), I asked my GP if they offered Pfizer for my age group. He verified that I had done the Vaccine Eligibility Checker, and told me they did. I checked in with the reception afterwards, and I was booked in for the next day.
Issues Cancelling Appointment
A family member was also able to book an earlier vaccine appointment, and had to cancel their bookings. After cancelling the appointment on the website, they still received an SMS notification as it neared that initial appointment date.
When they called the hotline to cancel, they were put on hold for over an hour. Eventually, they spoke to someone who manually updated their record and cancelled the appointment.
Hopefully this system issue has been resolved, otherwise a lot of vaccines will be going to waste. Covid vaccines (specifically Pfizer and Moderna) are notoriously delicate because of their temperature requirements – if someone doesn’t turn up for their appointment, there’s a fat chance it goes to waste.
All in all, I’m glad I was able to secure a vaccine when I did. The overload of information regarding covid and vaccines really has made it more frustrating than it needed to be.
While I understand the logistical difficulties a national vaccine rollout, Australia’s healthcare systems really are in need of a rework.
Healthcare and patient data needs to be centralised and digitised more effectively to meet demands and provide clarity to the process (instead of multiple websites/vaccine registration systems).
It’s ironic that in the Digital Age, the fastest way I received a jab was simply by asking my doctor.