By Arthur Barbalho

More than 3,000 elderly people have already been vaccinated in 390 condominiums through the “Vaccination system for elderly in condominiums”, developed by the Laboratory of Technological Innovation in Health at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (LAIS / UFRN). The service is a joint action with the Department of Collective Health (DSC), Department of Nursing (DENF), Instituto do Envelhecer, Center for Studies in Collective Health (NESC), Directorate of Public Health Care (DAS), Program of Postgraduate in Nursing (PPGE), School of Health, Health Sciences Center (CCS) – all from UFRN – and Municipal Health Department of Natal.

More than numbers, those responsible for the project highlight the social character of the action, developed as one of the auxiliary initiatives to face the new coronavirus in the state capital. At this time, ensuring vaccination and immunization of the elderly against the Influenza virus also helps in the work to contain the pandemic of COVID-19.

The action is the result of the extension project “Strategies to Support the Elderly Influenza Vaccination Campaign in the Municipality of Natal / RN – A complementary action to combat COVID-19”. To understand a little about how the multidisciplinary team that carried out the field work took place, we spoke with professor Kenio Costa, director of the Instituto do Envelhecer and also a researcher at LAIS / UFRN, who served as one of the project’s coordinators.

The professor spoke about how the project was organized, which also includes research actions by the entities involved, in addition to the current panorama of vaccination in the city of Natal, as well as the impact of the extension project in the fight against the new coronavirus. Check out!

How did the action take place and which units were involved?
The project was conceived from the need to support the health teams of the Primary Health Care network in the city of Natal, the management of the Department of Health Surveillance and the Directorate of Health Care of the UFRN Server in vaccinating the elderly against Influenza. In practice, the initiative aims to reduce the risks that this population would be exposed to contamination by the coronavirus if agglomerated in collective spaces. In addition, the aforementioned proposal aimed to expand the vaccination of elderly people in areas not covered by the Family Health Strategy (FHS), considering that the municipality of Natal has only 38% FHS coverage.

It should be noted that this is a joint action by teachers and technicians from the Department of Collective Health, Department of Nursing, Instituto do Envelhecer, Center for Studies in Collective Health, Directorate of Public Health Care, Laboratory of Technological Innovation in Health, Program Graduate Program in Nursing, School of Health, Direction of the Health Sciences Center at UFRN and Municipal Health Department of Natal.

How many condos have been serviced through the project so far?
Initially, 607 condominiums were registered on the Natal Vaccine platform (the platform makes up the Technological Ecosystem developed by LAIS to assist the State Secretariat of Public Health in combating the pandemic). Of these, 37 condominiums were not located in the municipality of Natal, thus totaling 570 condominiums. We had 180 condominiums that were invalidated on the platform because they were in duplicate or they had already vaccinated all the elderly when contacted to schedule the vaccination. Thus, we serve 390 condominiums in the capital, with 3,439 doses of vaccines applied so far.

And how is the panorama of vaccination of the elderly in general in Natal?
According to the SMS Natal Department of Health Surveillance (DVS), until April 22, 95,644 elderly people had been vaccinated, corresponding to a coverage of 112.01%. In other words, we exceeded the goal set by the Ministry of Health to vaccinate approximately 86 thousand elderly people. It is noteworthy that within this total number of vaccinated persons, there are people residing in other municipalities who were vaccinated in the capital, and there are still data not consolidated in the information systems.

In summary, how do the teams that carry out the vaccination work in practice?
The work began with the consultation of the Natal Vaccine Platform, developed by LAIS, carried out by the Instituto do Envelhecer and the Department of Collective Health, from which the condominiums and their respective lists of elderly people registered by the liquidators were collected. From this survey, service routes to condominiums were organized, according to the number of people registered. It started with the condominiums with the highest number of elderly people (between 70 and 200 elderly people), considering the highest health risk. Then, we contacted the managers of the selected condominiums to guide them about the organization, cleaning and disinfection of the space needed for vaccination, how the flow of elderly people should occur during vaccination and the identification of teachers who went to their condominiums.

Each team of vaccinators consisted of three or four professionals, according to the availability of professors and graduate students. The teams are composed of representatives from the Department of Nursing and School of Health, and from the departments of Pharmacy, Dentistry and Public Health. The vaccination teams meet at the headquarters of the Health Surveillance Department, where the immunobiologicals and supplies needed for vaccination are distributed (syringes, needles, registration bulletins, vaccination cards, among others). The personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, hats and disposable aprons) used by the teams was provided by the direction of the UFRN Health Sciences Center and complemented by SMS Natal. In addition to these, 30 face shields produced by members of the Pet-Saúde Interprofessionality at UFRN were donated for use by vaccinators.

The team consists of an organizer / interlocutor, who makes contact with the liquidators, a recorder who checks the data of the elderly and performs the registration of the vaccine in the person’s vaccination card and on the DVS map, and two vaccinators who prepare and administer the vaccine.

In your opinion, how does this work impact the fight against Influenza? And how does this also reflect the coping with the new coronavirus pandemic?
The actions of this project have an impact on the fight against Influenza because they expand the vaccination coverage for the types of the respective virus, reducing the risk of illness of respiratory syndromes, which have these viruses as common agents at this time of the year.

It is important to highlight and clarify to the population that this vaccine does not protect against infection by the new coronavirus. However, by protecting the elderly population, the vaccine prevents Influenza infections from overloading the respiratory system of these people and, consequently, the health system. In addition, influenza vaccination minimizes the risk of influenza / coronavirus coinfection, which facilitates the differential diagnosis between influenza and COVID-19. If the vaccinated person has symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, it is probably not the Influenza virus that causes it.

The action is also important because it prevents elderly people from being exposed in agglomerations at vaccination posts or health units, since today social isolation is the best way to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.