When my appointment for a Covid shot finally arrived this week, I was keen to see how a vaccination programme delivered directly by the Ministry of Health and its district agencies would differ from those provided all the time by private practitioners. One difference was soon apparent.
The vaccination centre was set up like a salubrious version of department stores I'd seen in the Soviet Union long ago. In Soviet shops you went to a counter to ask for an item on display and you were given an invoice to take to another counter to pay for it. Having paid, you were given a receipt to take to a third counter to receive the goods.
The system was designed to employ three people to do the job of one. The vaccination centre beat that ratio hands down.
At the drive-in I was stopped by a friendly man in hi-viz who invited me to let "the lady" out at the entrance to the building before proceeding to the parking area, all of 20m away. There I passed a second man in hi-viz who pointed me to a free space, of which there were plenty.
Entering the building you put on your mask to be met by two women identically dressed holding hand sanitisers. Sanitized, you entered those cattle yards they make with tape at airports. On Monday it was not needed but they're prepared for a rush.
The maze opened to a desk where a third uniformed woman checked our appointment sheets and directed us to the next desk where two more waited. They recorded our details and it might have been there that you got the card recording your vaccination date, or it might have been later. There were at least two more desks to go to, each double-staffed.
Along the way you were given three pages of information on the vaccine you were about to receive and at the last desk they finally wanted to see the photo ID you are asked to bring. "That's me without the mask," I said. The lady smiled.
They were unfailingly pleasant. People are writing to the paper to report how nice and friendly they found the vaccination centre and it's true. The converted premises were modern, spacious and sunny and the ample staff could not be more pleased to see you.
For the injection you go into a private booth a bit like voting. The "vaccinator" does what nurses in general practices routinely do with less fuss. Would I prefer it in the left or right arm, this one asked? "Umm, right," I said. Wrong. Since I'm right-handed she advised the left. OK. Not like voting after all.
It's just a normal prick, very quick, over before you expect. The whole syringe is discarded, which seems a waste. When are the Greens going to go after medical plastic?
At least the Ministry's budget doesn't run to tea and biscuits in the recovery room. There the precious new card, surely eventually a ticket to ride, is taken back temporarily to ensure you wait the requisite 20 minutes. Unlike the flu vaccine this one did throb a little then and later, not for long.
Sooner than expected, they return the card, now dated with your second appointment, and let you go. It was all very relaxed and orderly but so were the jabs I've had in GP clinics where two people, a receptionist and nurse, do the work of the 10 that had done for me here.
One day it will be amusing to recall the first Covid-19 vaccination. That will be the day we go to a doctor every year for a dose of the latest variant along with other seasonal viruses going around.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield says his ministry is running this programme so general practices can deal with the usual winter illnesses, but a number of GPs have publicly complained that their resources and patient connections have been sidelined. Bloomfield says they are about to be brought into the programme. Not before time.
The Delta variant is as near as Sydney where it continues to spread in an unvaccinated population despite social restrictions. Quarantine has been re-imposed on travel from anywhere in Australia, the All Blacks will now be based there for two "home" tests, maybe more.
It's time to step up the pace. When I got a shot on Monday I thought I'd be one of the last of Group 3, but the next day the Herald published figures suggesting barely a quarter of over 65s have had at least one dose, a quarter had yet to book an appointment.
On Wednesday bookings opened for the next age group, over 60s, but it should be open to all now. The vaccination centres are ready. Let's get them busy.