Bay of Plenty pharmacists say they are coping abuse amidst "huge frustration" from people confused over vaccine booster availability, and a leading politician has labelled the situation as "just crazy".
On Tuesday, the Government announced the length of time between being fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot would be reduced in 2022. From January 5, those who have been fully vaccinated for four months will be able to get the booster – a two-month reduction from the existing six-month gap.
Rotorua Unichem Central pharmacist Doug Hong said customers had been upset and angry at being turned away.
Hong said he had received conflicting instructions and "it is an evolving situation with new guidelines being released".
"We weren't really advised a lot in advance. It has been quite last minute."
But, he said the Ministry of Health and the Immunisation Advisory Centre had done a "good job" to mitigate the misinformation about booster timings.
Michael Taylor, the dispensary manager at Life Pharmacy Bayfair, said he's dealt with abuse from customers wanting to get their booster shots but confused at being told they couldn't yet.
Taylor said "unfortunately the information wasn't very clear" and turning people away "made a fair number of people pretty upset".
"Most people don't get too extreme, but you get the odd one that does."
He said vaccinators were being blamed for decisions and guidelines out of their control.
"When people ring us two minutes after it's been announced, we're still trying to understand it ourselves."
Tauranga man Scott Harnett took time out of work to get his booster at one pharmacy but was turned away. He then went to the First Ave vaccination centre, thinking perhaps the pharmacy didn't have enough stock.
Harnett said a "man on the door" told him he'd turned away many people confused about the booster announcement and had been abused.
Harnett himself saw "three or four" people turned away.
"I felt really sorry for him."
He believed the Government's announcement was not clear.
Te Puke Life Pharmacy's Paul Lotter said he had also experienced angry and upset customers and "we were as confused as everybody else".
"We expect the Ministry of Health to be a little bit better with their information sharing."
Other vaccinators in the Bay of Plenty said they had been told not to vaccinate anyone under six months from their second dose until the New Year, while others were told anyone at four months could now get their booster.
Act Party leader David Seymour said the Government had "no justification" for not letting people get boosters at four months immediately.
Seymour said he'd had conflicting reports from people in Auckland who said they'd already had the booster and others saying that should have been impossible.
National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said the booster rollout had caused serious confusion and "huge frustration".
"It's just crazy."
People were anxious to get their boosters because of Omicron but "the system is just so unresponsive that they can't".
"You've got pharmacists and vaccination clinics who've got the supply, they're keen to do it - let's just get on with it."
Fifth Avenue Medical Centre GP Dr Luke Bradford said any time there was a change in the plan or rules "there is a bit of confusion but people phone in and we just take them through it".
"For Omicron, boosters are really important, and it looks like that's going to be our next major variant to deal with."
Asked for clarification of the rules around booster shots, Ministry of Health's director of the National Immunisation Programme Astrid Koornneef said pharmacists and GPs were advised of the switch to four months December 21, before the announcement.
"It's good to see New Zealanders eager for a booster."
A delay in carrying out boosters at four months was necessary to update system requirements, training and information for vaccinators, and assess demand, she said.
". . . we strongly encourage everyone who has already gone six months or more since their second dose to get their booster as soon as possible to protect themselves, their whānau and the wider community from Covid-19 variants like Omicron."