Strengthening COVID-19 information and vaccination caravans in rural communities from Romania

The event was organised by ECDC together with the Romanian National Coordinating Committee for COVID-19 Vaccination (CNCAV), Romanian Ministry of Health and National Institute of Public Health (INSP) and the European Medicine Agency (EMA).

As of 26 January, 7 953 272 of the eligible population in Romania have been fully vaccinated, which represents 47.06% of the total population over 12 years old. However, a large proportion of the population remains unvaccinated and unprotected against the possible severe outcomes of COVID-19, particularly in rural areas.

Col. Dr. Valeriu Gheorghita, CNCAV president, said:

“This is part of a series of information activities regarding the benefits and importance of vaccination through messages tailored for each community, which integrates and takes into account the main vaccination barriers that people still have.  This way, we want to promote the vaccination campaign for the benefits of public health, through the active involvement of all relevant actors from the community, who can change people’s perception on vaccination. For this, it is crucial to know who we can rely on locally, how we can make the most of the scientific information and, last but not least, it is essential to know well the community we are addressing, taking into account its cultural, religious and demographic features.”

Dr. Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director, said:

“Increasing vaccine rate is of utmost importance to protect individuals and communities from severe consequences of COVID-19. However, a successful COVID-19 vaccination programme needs an understanding of, and a proper response to population’s beliefs, concerns and expectations regarding the vaccine and the disease. We are happy to work with Romanian health authorities in addressing vaccination barriers for communities with sub-optimal vaccination coverage, in a common effort to speed up vaccination campaigns and protect the population.”

In addition to numerous other communication initiatives, CNCAV aims to extend the reach of the national COVID-19 vaccination programme to rural population communities by intensifying information and vaccination caravans.

The caravans will focus on connecting with communities, listening, and working with key local opinion leaders for providing communities with adapted, understandable, and scientifically accurate information. Caravans will also bring vaccination closer to communities and offer vaccination where they reside.

The goal is to ensure that vaccination is easily accessible, as well as to understand and promote behaviours to encourage vaccination acceptance and uptake.

The workshop organised by ECDC and CNCAV focused on better equipping the local public health authorities and General Practitioners with necessary approaches and planning tools for effectively rolling out rural caravans.

The workshop also introduced participants to methods to improve understanding of communities’ concerns, questions, and beliefs on vaccination, which may impact individuals’ motivation to accept vaccination.

Behavioural change experts from ECDC provided insights on how experts in each district can better identify and collaborate with key local opinion leaders to promote vaccine acceptance and uptake.

Additionally, action plan templates were drafted by ECDC and CNCAVS and discussed during the workshop. These templates will serve to identify the needed resources, possible gaps, challenges and actions for organising the caravans.