A “vaccination doubt line” set up by doctors in the Netherlands is receiving up to 1,000 calls a day from people who are still unsure whether or not they should get jabbed against the coronavirus.
The helpline, originally launched as a local service in November by Robin Peeters, an endocrinologist at the Erasmus medical centre in Rotterdam, and Shakib Sana, a GP, was given a national number last month and has been inundated with inquiries.
Staffed mainly by volunteer medical students from rooms made available in the university hospitals of Utrecht, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Maastricht and Rotterdam, the service has met “an extraordinary response”, Peeters said.
He told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS that there appeared to be more “doubters” than anti-vaxxers among the unvaccinated population. “The more you can help people come to a decision and limit hospital admissions, the better,” he said.
Peeters said callers to the line, which is open from 8.30am to 4.30pm, fell into three main categories. First, those with questions about their individual medical situation: whether the jab would make their migraines worse, or interact with their medication.
There were also a large number of questions about pregnancy and fertility and Covid-19 vaccines, as well as possible side-effects. The answers to many such specific questions could not be found on government information websites, he said.
“The strength of a telephone helpline is that people can call anonymously and ask independent medical professionals,” he said. “People get their information from all sorts of unreliable sources, so there’s a need for independent advice.”
Before Christmas the line received 4,400 calls over five days, Dutch media have reported. The students log every question they receive, and have access to a database containing fully referenced answers to the most common queries.
Whenever they are unsure about an answer, they can contact specialists such as immunologists, gynaecologists and allergists – for more specific information. “The aim is to give every caller an appropriate and correct answer,” Peeters said.
Conversations with the few committed anti-vaxxers who call are kept as short as possible, with the students trained to always ask whether the caller has a specific medical question. If not, they move on to the next caller.
The objective is expressly not to pressure anyone into getting vaccinated, Peeters told the Gelderlander newspaper. “We want them to come to their own decision – we just want them to base it on correct information,” he said.