Vaccine Passes: Elderly and Disabled Struggle with Tech Requirements

The new traffic light system comes into force on Friday and older people and those with disabilities are facing challenges getting their COVID-19 vaccine certificates.

The vaccine pass allows New Zealanders to download proof of their first and second Covid-19 vaccinations. Those with a pass will have more freedom this summer, including being able to attend music festivals, have nights out at bars and restaurants, and go to the gym and sports events.

But getting a pass became too much for one Waikato man, who would now rather go into a rest home.

Age Concern staff helped the 76-year-old call the 0800 number, but he was unsure about selecting options 1, 2 or 3, and was put on hold for 20 minutes, Age Concern Hamilton executive officer Sara Farmer said.

Meanwhile, a list of frequently asked vaccination questions played and the man, who is already vaccinated, got confused and thought someone was ready to talk to him. When he eventually got a representative, she asked for his email address. He did not have an email and was told his vaccination passport could not be posted, so he hung up.

Alone, overwhelmed and exhausted by the new expectations, he asked an Age Concern staff member to arrange for him to go to a rest home.

Rangiora retirees, Cecily and Ken Wheeler​, also had issues getting their vaccine passes.

Cecily Wheeler said the pair were “reasonably” tech-savvy but hit a wall because they shared an email address. Wheeler decided to call the Ministry of Health directly and was able to get her vaccine pass after waiting about 30 minutes.

“Whether the boffins in Wellington think that everybody has got their own private email address I don't know, but we just have the one.”

Ashburton couple Jeanette, 68, and John Dowling​, 81, also share an email.

Jeanette Dowling said she was “impressed” by how easy it was to get her own pass but soon ran into issues getting her husband's sorted.

He instead had to order a pass through his local pharmacy on Monday, which was being sent to him through the post.

“They won't issue two passes to the same email address and the reason why sort of totally escapes me.”

The system was also causing problems for people with vision problems. About 30,000 New Zealand people are estimated to be blind in New Zealand and about 150,000 have low vision, according to Blind Low Vision NZ.

South Canterbury chairwoman Nancy Lawrence said members could ask for support with processing their passes.

“It’s very difficult for them ... if it was not for our volunteers their lives would be so much more limited.’’

Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton​ estimated about 40 calls for help were being made daily to the agency’s Canterbury branch alone.

The ministry call centre had recently added extra staff and the feedback was good from people who managed to get through, he said. But one issue that was starting to become a bit of a concern was that people were being told it could take up to 10 days to receive their pass in the mail.

“We're a bit concerned that it is going to curtail some older people's social connection and opportunity to go out and about.”