As in many other countries, people in Serbia who want to be vaccinated have to book an appointment online and then get their jabs at a vaccination centre. But what about the elderly and people without internet access, or those unable to operate digital devices? And what do people do who can’t travel to the vaccination centres on their own? Stari Grad, in Serbia, shows how municipalities can reach this important target group in their vaccination campaigns.
The Serbian municipality of Stari Grad – the old city of the capital Belgrade – has an ageing population with a large proportion of over 65s. In the COVID-19 pandemic they are part of the risk group. Many do not have digital devices, such as smartphones and computers, or the IT skills needed to book a COVID-19 vaccination on the e-government website.
The municipality therefore has to find other ways to get its vaccination message across to this population group. The same applies to marginalised groups, such as the homeless.
In addition, many people are not sufficiently mobile and cannot travel to the vaccination centre on their own. Others are unable to cope with the forms.
With its vaccination campaign, the municipality wants to reach risk groups in order to vaccinate them as quickly as possible. This is not possible through the usual digital channels. Therefore, direct addresses are also to be made by telephone and driving services are to be offered.
The municipality set up a call centre with ten workplaces, all of which are connected to the Serbian e-government system. Half of the staff contact the elderly and book vaccination appointments for them online. If needed, they also arrange transport to the vaccination centre. The other half work on the citizens’ hotline, answering questions about COVID-19 vaccinations.
Anyone unable to register online can turn up for a vaccination without prior registration. The municipality informs citizens how to do this via various media channels and through the call centre.
Volunteers provide transport to the vaccination centre and look after the people who need assistance there during the vaccination process.
The municipality assists all those in Stari Grad who are either too old or otherwise unable to cope with the vaccination process. The call centre manages to reach many vulnerable people, even though gaining access to private telephone numbers is often a major challenge, in part due to the data protection regulations.
The call centre’s mandate is clear: answers are only provided to organisational and general questions. The team refers medical topics, such as side effects and vaccination safety, to doctors.
Through cooperation with the Red Cross, there are generally around 30 volunteers on duty in Stari Grad, some of them helping transport the elderly to the vaccination centre. Protecting volunteers from infection remains a problem, however. It is essential that they do not contract COVID-19 while transporting their passengers.
Stari Grad’s vaccination strategy has paid off. By mid-April 2021, almost 80 per cent of the over 65s and more than 50 per cent of all adult citizens had been vaccinated. In comparison with other Serbian cities and in the global context too, this is an extraordinary result.
Author: Susanne Reiff
Deputy President of the Municipal Assembly of Stari Grad
Visniceva street 11000 Belgrade