Frustration over lack of vaccine appointments in parts of Norfolk
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Frustration is growing among people in their 40s who have been unable to book coronavirus jabs due to an apparent lack of nearby appointments.
Patients aged 45 to 49 began being invited for their first vaccines from the beginning of last week, as the rollout moved into its next phase.
But many have encountered obstacles when it comes to booking online, including appointments only being offered outside of Norfolk.
A similar issue was reported in February, when patients were told they could go for injections in places as far away as Brighton.
The situation is even more complex for Louise Evans, who lives alone in the isolated north Norfolk village of Hindolveston and does not drive.
The 47-year-old, who suffers with severe ADHD, has been trying "20 to 30 times a day" to find a local slot, but thus far only Cambridge, Ipswich and Boston have been suggested.
"I'm absolutely exasperated by this," said Miss Evans. "I've been panicking during the whole pandemic and now I'm panicking even more.
"The whole system is severely flawed and an insult to people who live in rural areas.
"Where I live there are only a couple of buses every week, and to get that to coincide with an appointment is hopeless. I've got friends who want to help, but they would have to take time off work to drive me a long way and that's not fair.
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"To get a taxi to Boston, for example, I am looking at £350-400. The 10-mile promise that was made a few months ago has simply not been kept."
Another person left frustrated in recent days was a man from Norwich, who said he was initially offered a jab in either Downham Market, Wisbech and Ingoldmells in Lincolnshire - varying from 40 to 100 miles away.
A week later, having checked the site on a regular basis, finally got an appointment in Attleborough on Friday (April 23).
The 46-year-old has, however, been able to book his second jab at the large-scale site in the city's Castle Quarter Shopping Centre.
Having received his vaccine, he said: "The staff at the vaccination centre were great and it was all very efficiently done.
"But I've yet to find anybody I know in the over 45 bracket who has been able to book their first jab in Norwich itself via the national booking system.
"When I first tried - on the day booking for over-45s opened - the only one I was offered in the whole of Norfolk was Downham Market, some 40 miles away.
"I kept logging in and was offered them in Cambridge, Newmarket, Haverhill and Lincolnshire, but never in Norwich.
"One popped up for Harleston, but I hung on hoping some would be offered in Norwich. None were, so when Attleborough appeared I decided to go for that.
"I know of other over-45s in Norwich who have travelled to Attleborough and Lowestoft for their first jabs. It's clearly not the end of the world for me having to travel 20 minutes down the road, but it's odd that it seems such a struggle for people to book first jabs in Norwich itself.
Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which has been leading the local rollout, has put appointment issues down a lack of vaccine availability.
Last month, health bosses warned of a reduction in supply throughout April, meaning second doses for more vulnerable and elderly members of the population have had to be prioritised.
Melanie Craig, chief executive of the CCG, said: “People aged 45 and over can still book their first appointment for the vaccine.
"If the vaccination clinic locations available on the national booking system website are not close to where you live, please do keep checking.
"More locations will continue to be added as further supplies of vaccine for first doses become available.
"Alternatively, you can contact your GP practice who will be able to book you in to the next available clinic."
On Thursday, it was revealed almost a quarter of people in Norfolk and Waveney have had both coronavirus jabs - the second-highest vaccination rate in the country.