Challenge Tries: Engaging Seniors On COVID-19 Vaccinations

In April 2021, a group of Public Service Division (PSD) officers went along with colleagues from the Silver Generation Office to talk to seniors at home about getting vaccinated. Ms Tan May Chin, a Senior Executive (Communications) from PSD, reflects on her experience.
Volunteers from the Silver Generation Office promote awareness about COVID-19 vaccination.

When the call for volunteers from the Silver Generation Office (SGO) popped up in my inbox in February 2021, it took me no time to sign up to be part of the COVID-19 vaccination outreach and engagement efforts.

When the COVID-19 vaccination programme for senior citizens was announced in January 2021, I received calls from elderly relatives and family friends. They sought help with making appointments, or finding information about their eligibility and suitability for the vaccination.

I realised that the lack of digital literacy could affect how senior citizens receive and understand such information, and saw value in being part of the SGO’s face-to-face engagement efforts.

Public officers from PSD and SGO set out on an April morning to chat with seniors about getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Public officers from PSD and SGO set out on an April morning to chat with seniors about getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Being on the Ground

As part of the volunteering experience, I worked hand-in-hand with an SGO counterpart, Celeste. She offered guidance on how to initiate the engagement process with households (specifically, those of senior citizens) and assist those who are not digitally savvy, but were keen to book an appointment for their vaccination.

We also sought to find out if the seniors had queries about the vaccination, or if specific health conditions would prevent them from getting their shots.

Celeste and May Chin (in blue) talk to seniors in their homes about getting vaccinated.
Celeste and May Chin (in blue) talk to seniors in their homes about getting vaccinated.

My interactions provided fresh insights and taught me the following:

  • Communication Is Imperative

When visiting the seniors at their homes, we made it a point to communicate in a language they were comfortable with. From time to time, we encountered seniors who were more reserved. This included those who would acknowledge our presence but carried on with what they were doing.

In such situations, the brochures we shared with them were a useful source of information, especially if they required assistance at a later time. Alternatively, we would speak with their family members if they were around.

Besides meeting targets, volunteers also engage in conversation with seniors.
  • Empathy Makes a World of Difference

Volunteering is not just about meeting targets. Yes, the outreach efforts may have specific goals. But there are chatty seniors who love to engage in a conversation, to speak about their interests (i.e. gardening) or even what they used to do for a living.

By all means, be empathetic, stay put and listen. In fact, what I found is that they would be more open to listening to what you have to say as well!

  • Work as a Team

Volunteering can be physically demanding, especially when you’re doing house visits. Thus, it is really important to build a good rapport with those working with you.

Some tips include being clear about your respective roles and responsibilities. Are you the one engaging the resident and sharing more information? Or are you the one taking down case notes? Agreeing to your duties in advance would make your volunteering experience a more productive and fruitful one.

From this experience, I learnt the importance of having a groundswell of community support to uplift vulnerable groups, deliver critical services and meet citizens’ many complex needs.

Making a Difference

This was the second time I have taken part in a COVID-19 related operation. The first was in 2020 when I took on the role of a call centre personnel.

Before that, I had been volunteering actively in the youth mentoring space. So I was game to serve a different community group confronting a different set of challenges and realities amid the evolving COVID-19 situation.

And this latest experience has been especially meaningful. It has inspired me to seize future opportunities to step up as a volunteer to engage senior citizens.

If you are looking to contribute to a meaningful community cause, I would definitely recommend it. You would be surprised by the immeasurable value you can bring to and receive from communities from all walks of life.

    May 24, 2021
    Tan May Chin
    Courtesy of Silver Generation Office/PSD
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