March 6, 2021

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Text, letter, drop-in clinic: Five countries and the various paths for a vaccine appointment

By Washington Post Staff,

Sean Gallup Pool/Getty Images/Reuters

An arrow on the floor directs the flow of traffic for people coming to a coronavirus vaccination center in Berlin on Jan. 18.

As vaccine efforts expand around the world, it’s clear there is no common path to the shot. In some places, text messages from national health services ease the way for those eligible. Elsewhere, the first step is getting through on a hotline to nail down an appointment. Then there are nations similar to the U.S. patchwork: different situations for different states or regions.

The Washington Post looked at how people are finding appointments in five countries.

Carl Recine


Health-care workers provide vaccinations in the Winding Wheel Theatre in Chesterfield, England, on Feb. 3.

Britain: A letter or call

LONDON — Seniors in Britain are invited to get their vaccine usually via a letter, or sometimes a phone call.

The overall effort is run by Britain’s highly centralized National Health Service, with priority given to those aged 80 and over as well as nursing home staff and residents.

Most of the population is already registered with a general practitioner, which has given the effort substantial administrative heft. Britain was also the first country in the world to authorize the Pfizer vaccine and began its rollout Dec. 8.

Once a letter arrives in the mail, then seniors are invited to book an appointment online, or call a number listed on the letter.

The vaccinations are taking place at more than 1,400 sites, including hospitals, medical offices and pharmacies. And there’s a host of other sites: an Ikea store, town halls, horse-racing tracks, cathedrals, arenas, community centers, a closed cinema and a mosque.

Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and the Duke of Edinburgh, 99, got their shots from a royal household doctor at Windsor Castle.

Its vaccination program is running at pace: More than 10 million, or about 15 percent of the population, have received their first dose. The government says it’s on track to administer 15 million doses by mid-February, including everyone aged 70 and older.

But while the rollout is happening relatively quickly, there have been reports of long lines and seniors being told to drive long distances to a vaccine center. Some regions are getting more vaccine supply than others.

— Karla Adam

Prakash Singh

AFP/Getty Images

A health-care worker poses by a poster about the coronavirus vaccine at the Kalawati hospital in New Delhi on Jan. 16.

India: A neighborhood list

NEW DELHI — When India’s vaccination drive began in January, 72-year-old Gurpreet Singh Bindra set to work. He was asked by a local health official for lists of residents 50 years or older from New Delhi’s Vasant Vihar district, where he is president of the neighborhood association.

“We wanted to make it easier for seniors, instead of them running around in circles,” he said.

Bindra’s team of five circulated messages on the neighborhood’s WhatsApp groups. Residents were asked to submit details like their age, address and any health conditions either through a Google form or email.

But Bindra, a former engineer who ran his own factories, said that would have left out neighbors who were not tech-savvy or did not use emails. “We allocated a young volunteer to help them,” he said.

For now, India is vaccinating health-care and front-line workers as priorities before turning to the rest of the first-phase group, people over 50 years old. The government has asked state government to identify the target population and plans to create an app for citizens to self-register. Some areas, like Bindra’s Vasant Vihar, are seeking to compile names in advance.

Ashok Mehta, an 80-year-old former corporate executive, felt a sense of relief after emailing his details to Bindra’s team. “Proactive leadership,” he called it.

Bindra said it took two weeks to compile a list of more than 1,800 elderly residents and submit it to the local health office. They do not know when their turn will come given the current pace of vaccinations.

— Niha Masih

Sean Gallup

AFP/Getty Images

People who have just received the coronavirus vaccine wait to be evaluated for side effects before departing the Messe Center in Berlin on Jan. 18.

Germany: Depends on the state

BERLIN — At Berlin’s Messe Center — an exhibition ground converted into a vaccine center in December — about a dozen staff wearing blue vests accompanied arriving seniors to the entrance, or pushed their wheelchairs.

“It went like clockwork,” said 82-year old Marianne Bals after receiving the vaccine. The entire process took about 30 minutes. “I have no complaints.”

In Berlin, residents eligible for Germany’s current vaccination phase receive a letter from the state containing a personal code.

Recipients can then call a hotline or go to a website and use the code to book an appointment.

Bettina Wohlmann didn’t have as easy of a time making an appointment for her 87-year old father, Heinz Wohlmann. “Please wait, please wait — the usual queues,” said the 61-year-old Berliner, mimicking the hotline message. “I then called at an impossible time and from there it went smoothly.”

But the process has been more difficult in other German states, all of which organize vaccination procedures independently. Some states require seniors to check their eligibility by seeking out a doctor, calling a hotline, visiting a website, or reading local papers. Other states send eligible residents a letter with a phone number or website where they can schedule an appointment directly.

In the northwestern state of North Rhine-Westphalia, technical glitches and flooded hotlines initially made it difficult for some to get an appointment, according to the local news site Funke Medien. In some states, such as Lower Saxony, legal restrictions bar states from directly accessing private addresses, so local governments rely on the postal service or private IT companies for help gathering data, according to Bild Online. But some addresses are left out, leaving some eligible residents without a letter or notice.

— Luisa Beck

Kobi Wolf

Bloomberg News

People wait inside a vaccination center at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Jan. 4.

Israel: Text messages from health-care provider

JERUSALEM — Israel’s national health system proved to be tailor-made for the quick rollout of vaccines, allowing the program to reach a world-leading 35 percent of the population in just six weeks.

Every citizen belongs to one of four public HMOs, which manage individuals’ health information through a national ID number. Israelis are used to getting automated reminders of their appointments and seasonal vaccine schedules.

When vaccinations for the general public began in mid-December, the HMOs began to notify seniors that appointments were available. Text messages let them click through to a website and chose available times and locations. Those who preferred could book by phone.

Doreen Bliss, 70, a Tel Aviv retiree, called her HMO as soon as she heard vaccinations had begun. After waiting on hold for about an hour, she booked an appointment at a clinic across town. But when she read that Tel Aviv had set up a vaccine center of its own closer to her apartment, she went online and booked a time there instead. (After she canceled her original appointment, a staffer at her HMO called to confirm that she still intended to get the shot.)

Her initial vaccination on Jan. 4, inside a huge tent in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, took about 15 minutes. Soon after her first shot, she received a text message confirming a date and time for her second, 21 days later.

“I think we handled it incredibly,” Bliss said. “We Israelis are not known for our orderliness, and everyone was queuing up.”

— Steve Hendrix and Shari Rubin

Pavel Golovkin


People line up to receive a dose of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine at the GUM department store in Moscow on Jan. 20.

Russia: Shopping mall clinics

MOSCOW — For seniors in Moscow, getting vaccinated is as simple as registering online by phone or even just dropping into local clinics or vaccination points, some in shopping malls.

In other cities, there are waiting lists. People register by phone or online and clinics phone them back when a slot is available.

There are five regions with no waiting lists, including Moscow and the surrounding region. Another five regions, including St. Petersburg, have waiting lists ranging from a few days to more than a week. But in 25 more regions, it is difficult to get vaccinated and waiting times are longer. In around half of Russia’s regions, vaccinations only began last month.

“At first, I didn’t even think about vaccination. There was little information about it and I am against vaccination in general,” said Larisa Denisova, 65, a retiree in the Yaroslavl region, 165 miles northeast of Moscow.

But worried about rising coronavirus numbers — and the fact her daughter is a doctor working in hospitals — she decided to get the shot after speaking to friends in Moscow, where the vaccine was first made available late last year.

The problem was that, until recently, the nearest vaccination point was in the city of Yaroslavl, too far and inconvenient for her to reach. Recently, her local clinic began offering vaccinations.

“I need to get an appointment,” she said. “I need to call them and get a date and a time slot. I am not sure how long I will have to wait, probably a week or 10 days.

— Robyn Dixon

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