Natasa Todorovic, Health and Care Program Manager of Red Cross of Serbia, HelpAge global network member, shares her experience of how vaccinations are begin rolled out in Serbia.
Red Cross branches are contacting older people and supporting them in receiving the vaccine, including providing psychological first aid.
Older people’s experience of the vaccination process
Older people are being prioritised for vaccination in Serbia and people are praising the way everything has been organised. There is minimal waiting time, and a fast and efficient process has been set up for getting through the procedure.
Information is provided via email or text message, with the date and place for the vaccination sent a day or two in advance. My own father got his first shot on a Sunday, having registered on the Friday evening.
A 77-year-old man from Belgrade told us, “Organisation of the process is excellent. Everyone knows their role and there are no slowdowns along the way. Those who are not great at using their mobile phones get all the help they need from the staff.”
As for the changing of restrictions, some time still needs to pass before this can happen.
Some older people have only received the first of the two mandatory shots and even after the second one, 10 to 15 days need to pass before the person is considered protected. They are all strongly advised to keep up the protection measures, including wearing face masks and distance, especially as the rate of infection has been on the rise on Serbia over the past several weeks.
Support by Red Cross of Serbia
There are 46 Red Cross of Serbia local branches assisting in the vaccination process, and these are recognised by the local Crisis HQs for their capacity to provide essential support.
Their role is to ensure that those in need get support with getting to the vaccination hotspot and this is mostly for older people who live in remote or rural areas, or who have movement difficulties. The Red Cross will provide logistical support in such cases, including transportation to and from the vaccination centre.
A Red Cross branch will call an older person at least five times during the process. First they agree on the time to pick them up for vaccination. They will then ask how they are feeling a day after the first shot, making sure they receive psychological first aid and reminding them that they are not alone and will not be left behind, and that the red Cross will support them if needed. They also ask if they received the invitation for the second shot, agree on the time when they are to be picked up and then will again check on their condition after receiving the vaccine.
This is the minimum that we do and some older people will receive more frequent calls if they need it to provide more psychological and psychosocial support. There are some 679 volunteers working for the Red Cross in these activities, and it is estimated that they have provided some form of support to 179,240 older persons so far.
These are the weekly numbers, and just to put it in perspective, over a million people have already been vaccinated in Serbia.
Reflecting on the Serbia vaccination experience
The vaccination process is encouraging us to explore the meaning of the Serbian experience for all. It is highlighting the importance of volunteering and building a positive image of older people.
We have had several seasonal flu vaccination campaigns in the past ten years, and this COVID campaign is built on these experiences. Serbia can be an example of good practice as it shows that with good organisation you can get high percentage of the population vaccinated in a relatively short timeframe.
One of the challenges we have observed is that there needs to be a parallel information campaign to go with the vaccination to ensure that people receiving the first and second dose know when thy can be considered fully immunised. They need to know that even after receiving the second shot they should continue to apply all measures of protection.
It is very important that the continued promotion of safe behaviour should support any vaccination information programme.
HelpAge is calling for collective action and global cooperation to ensure equitable access to vaccines and leave no one behind. Read the document No one is safe until everyone is safe to learn more.