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Vaccination hotline for EUR 50 million in Germany overloaded

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Vaccination starts with a contact center

Vaccination for Covid-19 started in Germany at the end of 2020. Initially, vaccination will mainly be offered to people over the age of 80, residents of nursing homes, and medical staff. But how do people get their vaccines?

In the states Berlin, Bayern and Bremen people receive a letter of invitation. They find a code in the letter and can register online. In the other states of Germany, at least in early January, people had to call and arrange an appointment. Similar call centers opened in the United States in late December, but in Germany they obviously did not expect such serious volumes.

The Federal Ministry of Health of Germany spends millions on call centers to organize the vaccinations. But although the big rush is still expected, callers have to wait a long time. According to the priority list, vaccination is offered to people over 80 years, as well to nursing staff or in hospitals. While nursing homes or people in need of care in assisted or service homes are visited by mobile vaccination teams, in the cities other citizens from the first priority group must visit a vaccination center. A phone call appointment is necessary in advance.

Capacity planning

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According to research by the newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, the ministry is planning up to 500 000 calls per week at peak times. These are to be answered and processed around the clock with the help of call centers with up to 2500 employees. By noon on 6 January, 100 000 people had already registered in Rheinland-Pfalz – one of the first states opened the lines.

According to the Association of Statutory Health Insurance (KBV), senior citizens who are ready to be vaccinated will receive a letter with a written appointment confirmation, information sheet and declaration of consent after the call center conversation. Since two vaccinations are necessary, two appointments must be made. A total of 11 centers are to be set up in the country by the end of January.

However, there are currently some problems with longer waiting times. “We are currently intensively investigating the very serious indications of an overload on the hotline”, said a ministry spokesman. Initial findings indicated technical reasons. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Health reported waiting times of well over ten minutes.

The hotline in the province of Brandenburg was completely overloaded at the beginning. KVBB said that over 10 000 calls had been made in the morning on January 4th.  “I tried to get an appointment for my parents (81 and 83 years). 80 calls with no result. My parents made 40 calls, equally unsuccessful”, writes Otto in the internet forum of the newsportal RBB24.

The spokesman asked that only people over 80 should call. Because: “The majority of the callers had just general questions or were not authorized to vaccinate.” The appointments would – apart from this week – only be given one week before the start of the respective vaccination center’s campaign.

Operational costs

The operation will initially cost 50.64 million euros. This is clear from a publication by the Ministry of Health. German subsidiary of the world’s leading British advertising agency WPP has received the contract. The Frankfurt consulting agency gkk Digital Group will place subcontracts with call centers and provide the necessary technology.

This an interim agreement to ensure the operation of the hotline until a contract is awarded in a Europe-wide award process. This could happen in mid-March. The 50 million euros would secure the operation of the hotline even if the pending award were to be delayed.

Calming down the public

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What was needed, it said, was a simple way for citizens to get their Corona questions answered “quickly, reliably and in a professional manner. This is the only way to prevent people from being negatively influenced in their search for information by inappropriate or interest-driven offers in advance of vaccination.”

In addition to the telephone line, a database with answers to frequently asked questions about vaccination should be created and stored. This is being developed by the Federal Ministry of Health together with the Robert Koch Institute and the Paul Ehrlich Institute. So far, the gkk Digital Group had not received any orders from the Federal Ministry of Health as part of the Corona information campaign.

Biontech, AstraZeneca and Moderna’s vaccines need to be put twice to be effective – two to three weeks apart. Therefore, both appointments must be booked together through the call center. With this procedure, the government wants to avoid possible abuse of online appointments. Only later this year, the government plans to allow online appointment bookings for all states.

The process

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Vaccination-interested over 80 years do not have to call necessarily. Close relatives can also arrange appointments for them. When doing so, the Ministry of Health asks that personal data of the vaccinated person, such as name, address and e-mail, be kept available and that the agreed appointments are binding.

The following must be brought to the vaccination appointment

– the written confirmation of the appointment

– the vaccination certificate

– the information sheet and the vaccination consent – both signed.

In addition, the health insurance card is helpful “to record personal data quickly and easily”, the Ministry of Health informs.

UK fraud attempts

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While in Germany authorities strive to optimize the work of call centers, cases of phishing have been reported in UK. Fraudsters take advantage of vaccination and try to steal bank and personal data. They send fake messages promising a Covid vaccine, police have warned. It’s not the first time since the start of the vaccination, when frauds have been attempted. In late December, a similar warning about fraudulent phone calls and messages was given.

“People are asked to press a number on their keypad or to send a text message to confirm they wish to receive the vaccine. Doing so is likely to result in a charge being applied to their phone bill”, the police warning said.  

According to Action Fraud, the UK’s national monitoring center for fraud and cyber crime, criminals have manipulated people’s concerns about the coronavirus pandemic to steal millions of pounds.

Action Fraud says the government will never send unsolicited emails or SMS, requesting banking information, as a requirement for vaccination.

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