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‘Death by websites’: Frustration grows with vaccine booking systems

Mr Hemphill’s aggregator received 40,000 views on the weekend after he posted it on Reddit, including 26,000 people who clicked through to try to book an appointment. His friend found a booking “pretty much immediately” and the link was shared among hospital workers.

Instead of checking each site and filling in multiple forms, covidqueue.com alerts users when an appointment is available with a bell. The bell sounds twice when appointments are found three weeks apart.

“The booking sites are really hard to find via Google; this saves time because you only need to check one site, not multiple,” Mr Hemphill said, noting he wanted to expand the site to include GPs.

“I’ve been watching all the appointments go through the system and for Pfizer appointments it’s crazy: bookings sometimes pop up the next day but – depending on when you log in – the next appointment can be in November.”

AstraZeneca shots have also been difficult to find using the online system: appointments were available at the Olympic Park hub this week, but at St Vincent’s there were no slots until August 25. Users reported becoming locked into their first choice of clinic when looking for appointments and needing to open multiple accounts based on which state-run hub they attempted to view availability for.

Availability at GP clinics, which administer the majority of AstraZeneca doses in NSW, depended on location and varied substantially. Most clinics in Sydney’s CBD, inner west and eastern suburbs which listed their wait time on the eligibility checker website said it was more than a fortnight. The HotDoc website also lists GPs administering vaccines, with similar wait times.

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University of NSW infectious disease social scientist Associate Professor Holly Seale said she had previously raised concerns about the online booking system, describing the process of using the eligibility checker, then additional web forms – including two different forms for NSW Health’s vaccination clinics – as “death by websites”.

“The system certainly isn’t as user-friendly as it needs to be,” she said, noting a Google search to book a vaccine returned two state government websites, one which said only people aged 40 and over were eligible and neither of which could be used to book.

“There are a percentage of people who are uncertain about their eligibility and navigating this system creates more concern for them.”

Julia Cooper, a 42-year-old from Parramatta, was unable to book a Pfizer appointment before September at a nearby NSW Health clinic so decided to find one at a GP.

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“No clinics will accept phone bookings and the websites redirect you around to the point where you just give up,” she said.

Ms Cooper then decided to look for an AstraZeneca shot, but was knocked back by one GP because she was eligible for Pfizer. She then found another GP willing to give AstraZeneca and is booked for this week.

NSW/ACT chair of the Royal Australian College of GPs Charlotte Hespe said people in their 40s and 50s should not be refused the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We have been supporting NSW Health in their strategy to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” she said.

Dr Hespe said her preference was for people, particularly those receiving AstraZeneca, to consult a GP.

“The problem with the website is it is trying to do too many things and failing to deliver,” she added, noting it was confusing and also allowed people to lie about their circumstances.

In recent weeks, NSW Health has established a number of walk-in AstraZeneca clinics in Sydney’s west as well as pop-up community clinics in mosques and churches.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Monday there was “an abundant amount” of the AstraZeneca vaccine in NSW, encouraging Sydneysiders to book a shot at a participating GP or pharmacy, or at the vaccination hubs.

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