Trying to find someone to vaccinate elderly parents has led from dead end to dead end for some, but the Government is unaware of the issue
At 84 years of age, Meredith Lee’s parents were some of the first New Zealanders eligible for the vaccine.
Despite this, six months into the vaccine rollout, they remain unvaccinated – and not because they don’t want it.
They are bedridden and unable to get out to a vaccination centre, still living at home with support from their daughters and hired nurses.
Lee said despite government messaging encouraging everyone in the first tranches of eligibility to get the jab, older people in her parents’ situation still haven’t had the opportunity.
For months it seemed there was no mobile vaccination team for people like her parents.
On Tuesday, she was told via email that her parents would be added to the list by the Northern Region Health Coordination Service – raising questions about the accessibility of the service.
“We are still exploring the best way to reach our to this vulnerable sector of the community,” the email said.
And Lee has found herself on a wild goose chase whenever she tried to find some answers.
“It’s a deep, dark hole,” she said. “No one will assist me. If you talk to doctors they just send you to the Covid helpline. If you do get through there, they just say they’ll send it up the line.”
Lee said she was told by somebody at the Auckland District Health Board on July 8 they were making a plan – but then heard nothing back for almost two months. This week’s correspondence told her the exact same thing as last time – they are making plan.
The amount of time and confusion it took to reach even this result means many more of the population’s most vulnerable may remain overlooked by the vaccine rollout.
“Staff don’t seem to know about [home vaccination] and it still needs to be added as a category on their Covid website,” Lee said. “There is a form but it seems no one really knows it exists.”
And if there’s a home vaccination service that can’t be accessed or used by those who need it, the question remains – is there really a home vaccination service?
“I’m really frustrated and quite disgusted by it all,” Lee said.
Not being able to vaccinate her parents has meant scaling back unvaccinated support staff at their Mellon’s Bay home, putting further pressure on Lee and her sister to care for them.
And with the latest Delta outbreak concentrated on Auckland, adding another layer of protection for vulnerable people like her parents is more relevant than ever.
Even if all of their staff are vaccinated, there is a chance of the virus spreading. Lee’s parents getting the vaccination would not only reduce the chances of this happening further, but also potentially reduce the severity of the illness in the event they contracted it.
“Even people who don’t leave their homes can be at risk,” Lee said. “They still need to get food and other services from the outside.”
When asked what the housebound should do about getting vaccinated, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said DHBs have a range of options at their disposal, including sending mobile vaccinators. He pointed people to the website and Healthline – the very places Lee spent hours trying to find a solution to no avail.
“They should use Book My Vaccine or the vaccine health number through Healthline,” said Bloomfield. “They will be able to provide them with advice on that.”
However, although Book My Vaccine provides a streamlined and user-friendly process for people trying to set up an appointment to get the jab, it doesn’t offer any options of alternative procedures such as a home visit from the vaccinator.
Disabled people are directed to the Ministry of Health’s advice page, which goes into great detail on how to decide if you are disabled and provides tools to help disabled people decide if they should get it.
There is, however, no information on how to access vaccination centres if mobility is a challenge. It seems the site is speaking only to disabled people who can get in the car and show up at the vaccination centre themselves.
Although the authorities seemed to have finally taken notice of Lee and her parents’ situation, Lee wonders how widespread the issue of vaccine access is for those who can’t make it to a centre.
“How many other elderly or disabled people are in this vulnerable position?” she asks.
Much of the discourse around the vaccine rollout has revolved around aged care facilities – a crucial place to address the vulnerability of New Zealand’s ageing population.
However, a University of Otago study from 2015 put the amount of New Zealanders who use late-life residential aged care at around 50 percent – suggesting there is a significant chunk of the aged population still living in private residences.
Obviously, a significant portion of this chunk will be able to get to vaccination centres under their own steam. But there is a segment that will rely on at-home visits.
Speaking on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government had been considering how best it can protect disabled New Zealanders.
“There has been some thought and innovation in this space,” she said. “There’s been some real thought going into how we can meet the needs of a range of communities.”
Lee’s parents may be on the list now, but she still doesn’t hold out much hope. They still don’t have a case number or any proof somebody would be along with two doses of Pfizer before too long.
“They just said they would be in touch, which doesn’t give me confidence,” she said.