COVID-19 caravan: Bringing information and vaccination closer to communities in North Macedonia
09 May 2022
Vaccination is key to protecting individuals and communities from severe illness due to COVID-19.
However, only around 46.5% of North Macedonia’s total population has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and only 8.4% of people have had their booster shot, leaving large numbers of people unprotected from the potentially severe effects of the virus.
To address this situation, the Ministry of Health organized a “caravan”, or a series of community events, led by a core team plus community members, to bring COVID-19 information and vaccines closer to the people who need them. Over 200 people have been vaccinated at community events organized as part of the caravan so far.
“The vast majority of people who are hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated or under vaccinated. For these people COVID-19 remains a life-threatening disease. With this caravan, we want to reach out to as many people as possible, get them the information they need from those they trust, and make COVID-19 vaccination easily accessible where they are,” said Dr Anne Johansen, Special Representative to North Macedonia and Head of the WHO Country Office.
On-the-spot vaccinations and advice
Supported by WHO, the United National Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the caravan travelled to 14 urban and rural communities throughout the country where COVID-19 vaccination uptake is lower than the national average. In Novo Selo, a village in North Macedonia, 50 people were vaccinated at one event. In Shuto Orizari, a suburb of the capital Skopje, 35 people received the shot compared to only 4 people in the 2 weeks prior to the event.
In addition to on-the-spot vaccinations, the caravan teams, consisting of medical professionals, Red Cross volunteers and students from medical associations, provided local communities with accurate information on COVID-19 vaccines and other topics, answered questions and provided advice based on people’s perceptions and concerns.
“We come prepared with brochures with facts about COVID-19 vaccines, masks, sanitizers, and other key resources. It is important to keep adhering to all preventive measures that we know work,” said one of the medical professionals travelling with the caravan.
Reaching people where they are
Local civil society organizations (CSOs) reached out to communities to inform them about the caravan before its arrival. “It’s really important that we meet the needs and priorities of the community at the local level – to go from house to house. Our field workers used this opportunity to increase community engagement about the importance of being vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Mersiha Usein from the CSO Romalitico.
“Outreach activities, such as these, help us deliver vaccines and information closer to local communities. Vaccines are crucial in saving lives. They are safe and effective and significantly reduce the risk of severe disease and death. Get vaccinated to protect yourself, your children and your communities,” added Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative to North Macedonia.
One key reason that people visited the caravan to get vaccinated was to protect their health and the health of their loved ones. “I got vaccinated because I have 2 children and I don’t want us to become sick. I have a child with paralysis – as his mother, I need to be healthy and alive,” said a woman who got vaccinated at one of the caravan events.
Others visited the events because vaccination was easily accessible. “I was passing by, saw the event and wanted to get the third dose of the vaccine,” said another visitor.
Increasing COVID-19 vaccination uptake
COVID-19 vaccines have been safely used to vaccinate billions of people. All vaccines go through rigorous testing and independent assessments to make sure they are safe and effective. Getting all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses helps people develop maximum protection against all current variants of the virus.
“Vaccines are a much safer way to develop immunity to COVID-19 than infection with the virus and are proven to provide more reliable protection than natural immunity. Vaccination is also very important in the context of easing preventive measures – the more people are vaccinated, the better protected we will be as a community,” noted Dr Bekim Sali, Minister of Health.
Activities designed to increase vaccine uptake over the last year have proven that different approaches work in different communities, reaffirming that there is a need for a tailor-made approach, specific to the needs of local populations, as well as a need to ensure easy access to vaccines and reliable information on COVID-19.
The pandemic is far from over. The caravan and other targeted interventions have contributed to an increased interest in protection from COVID-19. During the first week of the caravan project, health centres across the country reported an average increase of over 11% in daily vaccinations at their facilities, compared to the previous week.