Georgia: Little Vaccine Support for the Elderly

Vulnerable and isolated older people appear left to fend for themselves.

Georgia: Little Vaccine Support for the Elderly

Vulnerable and isolated older people appear left to fend for themselves.

The Government at a meeting to discuss access to vaccines.
The Government at a meeting to discuss access to vaccines. © Georgian Ministry of Health
Tuesday, 6 July, 2021

Izo Akhrakhadze, 84, disabled by a chronic bladder condition that severely limits her movement, should be a prime candidate for receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.

Yet Akhrakhadze, who lives alone, said that no one has approached her to offer to register her for the jab, let alone to help transport her to a health centre. Her only income is a 275 lari (90 US dollar) pension, and she has no phone to call the government vaccination hotline for help and no computer to register online for vaccination.

Like most elderly people in Georgia, she gets information via the television.  

“Many people trust vaccines and have gotten the jabs but it depends on the vaccine: I trust the Pfizer vaccine more and the Chinese ones less,” she said.

Georgia’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign began in March, but there appears to be no special provision for socially isolated elderly people to receive the jab.

Two state agencies are responsible for administering vaccines and gathering data: the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) and the ministry of internally displaced persons, labour, health and social affairs.

In a written statement on June 1, the NCDC said they neither had data on how many elderly people living alone had received the Covid-19 vaccine, nor any information about state programmes dealing with the issue.

On June 3, IWPR submitted a Freedom of Information request to the ministry on what aid provision there was for the elderly amid the pandemic, but received no answer.  Under the law on freedom of information in Georgia, the ministry is supposed to respond within ten working days.

According to the data from Georgia’s Social Service Agency, there are 62,799 elderly who live alone and receive benefits, the vast majority of them women.

This data may not reflect the actual figure of citizens living alone in Georgia since it excludes people who live alone but do not get state benefits. The latest figures from the 2014 census show just over 190,000 one-member households in Georgia.

Other elderly people say that lack of information has made them hesitant about vaccination.

Zaur Robakidze, 84, has been blind for the last decade and is mostly bedridden.  He said that neither he nor his wife had been contacted by any state agencies about vaccination. However, he added that they were both reluctant to receive the jab.

“I would probably refuse to vaccinate if anyone offered it to me,” he said. “I get all the information via TV: all the news about Russian or American vaccines. I'm an old person…my state of health is not that strong. I’m scared to vaccinate. I’m not in the age to take risks.”

The Georgian Red Cross Society has projects to support the elderly across Georgia, currently benefiting 838 citizens in both the capital of Tbilisi and the regions. Its home care coordinator Eka Gakhokidze said they had reached out to help beneficiaries access vaccination too.

“We have helped to register people for the Covid-19 vaccine,” she said. “As for the transportation, we help take them to any medical centre they choose and of course, the vaccination centres are no different.”

Elderly health care and social protection provision is scarce and fragmented in Georgia, both on the level of state policy and municipal programmes according to a report by the Taoba organisation, which focuses on the well-being of senior citizens. Donor dependency and the lack of state financing are the most serious threats to caring for the elderly in their own homes, the report concluded.

Although the elderly are eligible for several benefits, including a pension, these are often inadequate for their needs.  

“We could not find any major state programmes related to this issue and were thinking of our own initiatives,” said Natia Partskhaladze, the chair of the Georgian Association of Social Workers. “Finally, what we came up with was personal help to the elderly.”

She said that helping with registration and delivering vaccine information was the minimum the state should commit to. In the future, she continued, it would be useful if the government were to create mobile vaccination programmes to visit those who could not easily leave their homes.

“I think that there should be major vaccination [campaigns] at elder institutions, both state-run and private,” she said. “The second category to be vaccinated could be the elderly who live alone. Social service agencies and local municipalities should be the ones responsible for it,  informing the population about the need for vaccination and on the other hand helping in the registration and vaccination process. The communication should be specific and direct for this age group: they don’t use Facebook or Instagram.”

Meanwhile, vulnerable elderly people appear to be being left out of vaccination efforts. Makvala Kebadze, 84, lives alone apart from a visit from her daughter every few days. With no computer or internet, she relies on her television for information, and said that she would relish the opportunity to discuss vaccination.

“I mostly sit in my flat, and go out when there is no one there,” she said. “I’m confused: I do want to get vaccinated on the one hand and hesitate on the other. I have not made up my mind yet. If anyone approached me or asked what I was going to do about it I would certainly talk and discuss things with.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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