More than the money: Elderly now convinced about Covid-19 jabs, says Caritas

Marco Carvalho

A successful chapter in the effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic – this is how Paul Pun Chi Meng describes the government-driven vaccination effort aimed at Macau’s senior citizens.

Secretary-General at Caritas, Pun Chi Meng says that the elderly population of the Special Administrative Region has left behind unfounded prejudices and concerns and is now much more receptive to the benefits of immunization than it was earlier this year.

The substantial increase in the number of senior citizens who have received one or more jabs over the last few months, Pun Chi Meng considers, reflects the effort made by the government and by Macau’s civil society with the aim of clarifying the benefits of immunization among the elderly.

“I believe people are now more aware. According to the data that we have at our disposal, over 80 percent of senior citizens are already vaccinated. 80 percent! In February, the rate was barely over 20 percent. There is an obvious increase. An eighty-odd percent vaccination rate allows for much better prospects,” the secretary-general of Caritas acknowledges. He continues, saying, “However, we are not yet satisfied. We hope that a larger number of people can join the process, and we expect, in particular, that the relatives of the elderly can offer their cooperation. Some of them still harbor prejudices and believe that they should not let their family members get vaccinated. They assume that vaccination is either not necessary or is harmful.”

Caritas Macau is one of eight organizations and communitarian associations that have been recruited by the government with the purpose of helping to boost the vaccination acceptance among the elderly. Funded by the Macau Foundations and promoted by the Health Bureau and the Social Welfare Bureau, the initiative aims to “build an immunological community barrier” against the SARS-CoV2 virus. The government is reinforcing the campaign with the credit of a 250-pataca voucher to residents who are over 65 and have received at least two jabs of the Covid-19 vaccine. The coupon, Pun Chi Meng maintains, is of marginal utility for most of the senior citizens that have been contacted by Caritas. More than money, personal interaction is the decisive factor in convincing the elderly to join the vaccination effort, the secretary-general of Caritas emphasizes: “The 250 patacas voucher offered by the government can help in a few cases, but it is not a decisive factor. Senior citizens who joined the vaccination campaign did not base their decision on this offer. During the past few months, vaccine-hesitant people have changed their minds. And they changed their minds not because someone gave them something, but because of the interaction they had with other people. Contact with other people is important.”

The focus on personal interaction and information from immediate sources has led, over the last few weeks, several Caritas teams to visit some of the most populated residential neighborhoods of Macau, in a laborious effort to contact all the elderly residents targeted by the government’s campaign.

“We have volunteers that will knock on the door of the senior citizens and will ask them whether or not they want to be vaccinated. When we contact them, the first thing we ask is if they have been vaccinated. If they say yes, we say, ‘Great! You did the right thing.’ Then we ask them if they have already received the second jab. Those who have not yet been vaccinated, we tell them that we have a team prepared with the necessary equipment to help them receive the jab. We have been doing this work since April,” Paul Pun tells O Clarim.