People In NSW Are Having Their Pfizer Appointments Abruptly Cancelled As Doses Are Redirected

"I just felt really angry and powerless and so frustrated."

Text message of cancelled appointment from NSW Health beside Pfizer vaccine.

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People in Sydney and regional NSW have received text messages from NSW Health informing them that their Pfizer vaccine appointments have been suddenly cancelled.

Last Wednesday, NSW Health announced it would be redistributing up to 40,000 doses of Pfizer from rural and regional areas to help vaccinate Year 12 students in South West and Western Sydney, so they can get back to face-to-face learning in mid-August. Now, the cancellations are coming through.

While the government was open about their plans to redistribute doses from NSW Health’s rural and regional supply, these unexpected cancellations are leaving some people half-vaccinated and unable to rebook their second vaccine appointments.

Alex*, who lives with a frontline health worker in Sydney, got her first Pfizer vaccine shot at Belmont near Newcastle in July.

“I don’t know why I got sent [to Belmont], but I did. And I wasn’t going to question it because I wanted to get vaccinated,” she told Junkee. But her second-dose appointment for mid-August was cancelled last night. “If I knew it was going to be such a shit fight, I just would have got AstraZeneca.”

Alex tried to re-book an appointment in Belmont, but found that there were no appointments available.

“So, you’re just sitting there feeling pretty helpless. And then I started looking at other distributors of the Pfizer vaccine, because if I’ve had one dose, I need to get the other — otherwise, it’s pointless.”

“There’s not much that a single individual can do to keep themselves safe and keep others safe. And this was the one thing that I was like, ‘I can do this’. This is within my control and this is something I can do that’s going to help. And then that was taken away and there was no option to reschedule it. And I just felt really angry and powerless and so frustrated,” she told Junkee.

Alex ended up calling the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital help desk to explain the cancellation, and luckily they were able to re-book her.

“I felt really happy, but then I was like, is it going to get cancelled again?”

A Number Of NSW Regions Have Been Affected

Junkee asked ATAGI how people impacted should manage their follow-up doses if there are long waits between appointments. If they couldn’t get another appointment for their second Pfizer shot until September or October, would the vaccine be as effective? Should they get AstraZeneca for their second dose? At the time of publishing, they hadn’t yet responded.

A statement from NSW Health said, “The Pfizer doses will be sourced from supplies across rural and regional NSW to ensure no one area is impacted … NSW Health can assure those in regional NSW who have had a first Pfizer dose they will receive their second dose.”

Priority workers in the Hunter and Central Coast regions have also been impacted by the cancellations.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant addressed the reason for the redistribution in yesterday’s press conference. “The regions have been very much spared,” said Dr Chant. “At the moment, vaccinating populations in South Western Sydney and Western Sydney – and those young HSC students – they also are the workers. They’ve often got part-time jobs in supermarkets … That young age group through to our 40-year-olds are the ones that are predominantly transmitting this.”

However, people have not been getting vaccinated solely in their district of residence. It was reported in late July that people were travelled long distances in a desperate attempt to get vaccinated. And the state’s Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged doctors not to turn them away.

“There’s always been an exemption to leave your home and to go for medical attention and there’s nothing, but nothing more important than getting vaccinated at the moment,” he said in late July, as reported by the ABC.

The Vaccine Target

This morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a target for six million jabs — half the state’s population — by the end of August, potentially allowing some lockdown restrictions to ease if we make the goal.

Booking a vaccine appointment has been extremely complicated for some. A UNSW infectious disease social scientist, Associate Professor Holly Seale, referred to the state’s vaccine predicament as “death by websites” in the Sydney Morning Herald. And as Health Minister Brad Hazzard said, it really does feel like the Hunger Games.

In an attempt at easing confusion, a software developer has created an aggregation website for Pfizer appointments with just $20 and one weekend’s work. (It looks pretty great  – check it out.)

If you’re considering going down the AZ route, here’s a handy explainer on everything you need to know about getting the vaccine.

*Name has been changed.