“Sir, ma’am, have you been vaccinated yet?” In addition to the usual promotions of fruit and vegetables, fragrant sandwiches and fresh fish, the market of Rotterdam’s Afrikaanderplein has a new slogan this Saturday. Corona vaccines are also available on this day for unvaccinated visitors aged thirty and older. The choice: do you want Janssen or Pfizer?
General practitioners Bunyamin Meral and Caroline Reincke-Grootendorst move through the crowd and approach visitors, looking for potential candidates to refer to the adjacent cultural center ‘t Klooster. A vaccination location and information center were set up there this Saturday in collaboration with the GGD. General practitioner or not, the role as market trader lies with Meral. “I’m in my element: my very first job was on the market.”
Since June, the initially ailing vaccination campaign has been going at lightning speed. Every week, one and a half million injections are made in the upper arms and with a national vaccination readiness of about 87 percent, the coveted herd immunity seems within reach.
A blemish on those figures is the lack of vaccinations in some districts and municipalities. The Ministry of Health fears that the virus will “hang out, roam around and in the worst case mutate” in those places, a spokesperson said. These are often neighborhoods where many people have doubts or look at vaccines with skepticism, such as strictly religious municipalities or poorer neighbourhoods. Minister Hugo de Jonge (Healthcare) said Friday evening in the press conference about the relaxation that the highest possible vaccination preparation is now the main goal of the cabinet. Earlier this week, the ministry announced that GGDs with vaccination teams are moving into neighborhoods where turnout remains low.
In Rotterdam, this already happened at the initiative of a group of general practitioners, says colleague Meral. Over the past four weekends, he was on the market in Delfshaven in Rotterdam, where the percentage of people over 65 who got one shot is currently 68 percent – almost twenty percentage points lower than the national percentage of 87 percent already measured by the RIVM at the end of May. . On Saturday, Meral will be at the Afrikaanderplein in the Feijenoord district for the first time. There, 69 percent of the over-65s got one shot.
“In Rotterdam, the turnout is mainly stuck in neighborhoods where many people with a non-Western migration background live,” says Meral while walking through the Afrikaandermarkt. He sees that there is a language barrier, especially among older residents. Because of his own Turkish background, he often knows how to address visitors in that language – a big advantage in this district, he says. At the temporary puncture location next to the market, volunteers communicate in Turkish, but also in Arabic, Portuguese, Farsi and Polish.
But disinformation in particular is a major problem, say Meral and Reincke-Grootendorst. While fake news about the virus is rampant via social media, government information barely reaches this group. “It is often young people who prevent their parents or grandparents from getting a shot. They catch fake news on Facebook, YouTube or WhatsApp and take it for granted,” says Reincke Grootendorst. Meral: “That there are chips in the vaccines or that they become magnetic, for example.” Well-known conspiracy theories with no scientific basis crossing the internet.
The advantage is that these people are relatively easy to persuade in a conversation, the GPs say. “The problem here is really a lack of correct information. You can counter that with rational arguments and figures,” says Reincke-Grootendorst. “For example, by naming how many people die from the virus and by emphasizing the safety of the vaccines.” It helps if such information comes from a GP, she says. “Doubters take the message from you faster.”
When asked whether visitors have been vaccinated, the general practitioners on Afrikaanderplein sometimes get thumbs back, sometimes glazed looks and more than once interest after initial doubt. Market trader Said Dadi (50) is persuaded and promises to get a shot during his break. “My brother got Pfizer and didn’t get sick,” he says, pointing to a man behind the counter of the fish stall. “Now I dare too!” Market visitor Fatma Soydemir (34) and her husband also go to get a shot after their shopping. “I trust it now,” she says. It will be Janssen. “I’m going on vacation soon and then I’ll be done with one shot.”
Also read about vaccination solidarity: Will the vaccinated soon show solidarity with the unvaccinated?
The GPs, who more than once come up against a firm no, carry out their task pragmatically. Market vendor Frans (30) says he does not need to know anything about vaccination from behind the counter. “The Lord protects me – no, the Lord protects us all.” GP Reincke-Grootendorst: “I think I can jump high and low, but I won’t convince you, will I?” Laughing, Frans shakes his head.
Meral started talking with one woman for longer: she turns out to be a former patient, not yet vaccinated. Muran Caglar, 69, finally agrees to a shot. “Initially she did not want a vaccination because her son was reluctant,” Meral interprets. “He had received messages via WhatsApp that there were wrong ingredients in the vaccines. He urged her to wait.” Why does she agree now? Caglar points to her old doctor. “I trust him.”
Together they walk to the culture center where the vaccination location is set up. By noon there is a queue of candidates and the registration tables are full. A successful morning, Meral concludes. In the first two hours almost forty shots were taken: 17 Pfizers, 22 with Janssen.
Caglar chooses Pfizer. After the administrative hurdles, the 69-year-old takes a seat in the makeshift screening booth, made of the wings of what was originally a theater. In a few seconds the first injection is in, administered by her old GP herself. Did it hurt? Caglar firmly shakes her head. “This was a mosquito bite.”