Rotorua mothers wanting to protect their children against Covid-19 have been left frustrated and tearful after finding the city's vaccination centre closed on the day the vaccines rolled out to 5 to 11-year-olds.
Yesterday was the first day that age group could get the Covid-19 vaccine, but the Lakes District Health Board's main vaccination centre was closed for the day.
It comes as six new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Rotorua yesterday and follows confirmation on Sunday of a community Omicron case involving an Auckland MIQ worker.
In a statement, a Lakes health board spokesperson said the health board hubs had always been open Tuesday to Saturday. Drop-ins were available for 5 to 11-year-olds and bookings for its hubs in Rotorua and Taupō could now be made online from today.
The statement said there were several other options available and people wanting to know more details should go to the health board's Facebook page or the Healthpoint website.
The other options for children included Unichem Central Pharmacy for bookings and Ngāti Pikiao Health Services.
Enrolled patients could also book for vaccinations at Eruera Medical Centre and Ngongotahā Medical Centre.
Unichem Central Pharmacy owner David Honore said uptake for the children's vaccine on Monday was "huge".
"It's been great to see. We're only taking online bookings for it at the moment and we're booked out until Friday."
Honore said being approved to administer the vaccine to children under 12 had involved having the right equipment and training for the pharmacy's four vaccinators.
It comes as six new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Rotorua yesterday and follows a second community Omicron case in Auckland with an MIQ worker.
Rotorua mum Vanessa McWilliams said she had expected the main hub to be open for children's vaccinations and brought her 7-year-old along to get her jab.
"We checked online beforehand and there was nothing to say the hub would be shut," McWilliams told the Rotorua Daily Post in front of the hub's closed doors.
"We wanted to get our daughter vaccinated before she starts school again.
"I have a biomedical background and my husband is a science teacher so we understand the importance of getting vaccinated."
Another concerned mum, who wished to remain anonymous, took her two children to the vaccination centre but to her surprise it was closed.
The mum said she was told pharmacies and other centres offering the vaccine were understaffed and wouldn't be accepting walk-ins.
"My children are immuno-comprised so I want them protected before they go back to school."
The mum was motivated to have her children vaccinated as soon as possible because "it gives them a better chance of fighting it and I'm terrified of them catching it and dying from it".
The mum felt it was unfair that the vaccine process was such a "mission".
"I'm quite blown away at how unprepared (it was) and the conflicting stories between different agencies.
"What's the point of putting all this information out, and these parents getting very excited, and then we turn up and 'oh nah'?
"The Government's dropped the ball again on this one."
"The Government's going, 'Go get your tamariki vaccinated as soon as you possibly can,' and we're trying but they're not trying."
In a tearful phone call to the Rotorua Daily Post, one mum didn't want to give her name but said her son, who suffers from a serious medical condition, needed to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
"It's unacceptable. The DHB should know that there are children out there at risk because of serious health conditions."
The mum said she rang the Covid-19 0800 number but was told by a service centre employee that the system would not allow for bookings for children aged 5-11 at the Rotorua centre.
"The person at the 0800 number was great. They did everything they could but they said the Lakes DHB didn't have any bookings at the hub (centre) for children under 12.
"They could book me in but not my son. This is a hiccup I did not expect."
The mum said she herself is immuno-compromised so going to a medical centre or chemist "was not an option". The hub was well-ventilated and spacious, which was ideal for both mother and her child.
"It's quite a frightening time. There's no other option now but to get vaccinated.
"I'm doing everything I can to protect my boy. He's a happy, beautiful boy and he loves school. I don't want him to miss his friends."
Another mum, who spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post on condition of anonymity, said she and her family were holidaying at Lake Rotoiti from Auckland and had driven to Rotorua just to get their daughter vaccinated.
"This is the official place. They should be open."
There were many reasons she was prioritising her daughter's vaccination, the mum said.
"There are people in our family who are immuno-compromised and we look after elderly relatives who live down the road from us.
"Also, my daughter is going to be in a show, so we thought we should get [her vaccination] as soon as possible."
When asked to respond to these comments, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins' office referred the Rotorua Daily Post to the Government's Unite Against Covid-19 website.
Te Arawa COVID Hub chairman Monty Morrison said it had decided not to offer the paediatric Pfizer vaccine at the Te Arawa drive-through vaccination clinic to give staff time to upskill with the appropriate training.
"It is absolutely our intention to provide this service in the near future."
Lakes District Health Board member Merepeka Raukawa-Tait suspected the centre would consider extending opening hours as vaccination rates increased.
"Obviously we want to remove any obstacles that might prevent a speedy, efficient service.
"We must also ensure that those providing the services are not getting overwhelmed."
National Immunisation Programme operations group manager Rachel Mackay said the number of centres offering the children's vaccination would increase over the coming weeks as health providers who had been taking a well-deserved summer break reopened.
More than 120,000 doses of the child vaccine had been delivered to around 500 vaccination sites around New Zealand.
She said the Ministry of Health asked people be patient in those areas where demand might be high.
It is the second time the closure of Rotorua's central vaccination centre has prompted a critical response. In December, the hub announced it would be closed until January 5 to give its staff a break.
The hub later announced it would re-open early following the public outcry.