In Serbia, more than 1 million people, or more than 13% of the country’s population, have now been vaccinated against the virus responsible for COVID-19. This early success forms a strong foundation for the broader population-wide campaign ahead.
WHO has worked with countries in the European Region to strengthen their ability to launch mass vaccination campaigns against COVID-19. This includes establishing legal, data management and logistics frameworks for the use of vaccines as well as improving cold chain and communication capacities. Training and assisting medical staff in dispensing the new vaccines and engaging the public in their acceptance and uptake are also vital.
In Serbia, the WHO supported the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group in developing and implementing vaccination planning. In addition, the recommendations of the WHO were included in the national vaccination plan.
Vaccination of frontline workers
WHO calls for vaccination of health workers and other vulnerable groups to begin within the first 100 days of this year in all countries around the world. Vaccination of health workers in Serbia started in December 2020 for employees who work in COVID-19 hospitals and medical wards in primary care centers.
Dr. Raspopovic, a frontline worker at the Zemun Clinical Center in Belgrade, has been treating COVID-19 patients since March 2020 and was one of the first health workers to receive a vaccine. He stressed that it was his “duty” as a healthcare worker to get it: “Getting the vaccine was my duty to my patients, but also to my colleagues and family. That’s how I protect you and me. I hope that by receiving it, I will send a message to others that this is the only way to stop the pandemic. “
Ensure easy access
In order to reach as many people as possible in the original target groups, vaccinations were carried out not only in health facilities, but also in venues in Belgrade and other major cities. Seniors and people with disabilities are reached with mobile units. An electronic system records and tracks data throughout the vaccination process: from vaccination readiness to the issue of post-vaccination certificates. For those without internet access, a COVID-19 information phone line has been set up, through which patients can receive all relevant information and instructions about COVID-19.
Increase in acceptance and acceptance
Simple access to vaccination is not enough to achieve high acceptance if people do not consent to vaccination. Recognizing the important role targeted communication plays in building trust, WHO has assisted Serbia in collecting data on the public’s perception and attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinations. Two rounds of the WHO Behavioral Awareness Survey on COVID-19 were conducted in December 2020 and February 2021. The survey results show that vaccine adoption has increased 9% since December 2020.
The data gathered through the behavioral intelligence survey helped tailor a communication strategy and action plan for COVID-19 vaccinations to meet people’s needs and concerns. To develop the strategy, the Serbian national authorities have teamed up with three United Nations agencies – WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Targeted communication is critical to ensure that public concerns are addressed, that hesitation to vaccinate is reduced, and that vaccine demand is managed to vaccinate sufficient numbers of people. This will help contain COVID-19 in the country and relieve the health system and society as a whole.
The government has started implementing the risk communication and community engagement campaign, with a focus on the increased reluctance of certain populations and potential barriers to vaccination. The WHO country office in Serbia will continue to support the national partners in all aspects of the introduction of COVID-19 vaccination in the country.