Why is it so challenging to distribute COVID-19 information to the elderly in Norway?

En eldre mann sitter ved et spisebord og ser inn i en dataskjerm.

This article is written by researchers from the research project Virtual Presence: A cultural analysis of the emergence of 'telepresence technologies' as a solution to loneliness.

Elderly struggle to find vaccine information

Recently in Norway, problems associated with informing the elderly about the scheduling of vaccinations has received some public attention.

In an article published on the website of Aftenposten, one of the country’s largest newspapers, we could read that "this week, Oslo asked all 75 to 84-year-olds to register digitally to get the Covid-19 vaccine faster. This meant logging in with Bank ID, using a two-step verification, and approving multiple GDPR requests."

On NRK.no, the webpage of the Norwegian public broadcaster, we could read of a similar problem.

"Several elderly people are struggling to find out how to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The commissioner for the elderly fears that older Norwegians are not getting the information they need."

How did England communicate with the elderly?

In England, 15 million have been vaccinated in the space of two months. How did they achieve this?

On their website, the NHS of England state that the public will receive a letter in the post and that they can then either book online or by phone to make an appointment.

Several mass vaccination centers are also being established in public meeting places such as community centers and churches. Local authorities, known as councils, are actively promoting these options.

Even though recipients still need to book a slot, a large share of the population have been vaccinated. Why is it that England has managed to adequately inform its elderly population, while Norway is struggling to reach this demographic?

After studying the elderly and technology, we are unfortunately not surprised. History often repeats itself.

Once again, we repeated that our informants do not have such technological aids, and that they are informants in our study precisely because they are not users of modern technology. – Marit Haldar, Erik Børve Rasmussen, Clemet Askheim, Julia Köhler-Olsen and Lars E. F. Johannessen

In our project, we are studying the everyday challenges of the elderly who neither have digital competence nor use modern technology.

We have reported the project to the Norwegian Center for Research Data (NSD) and have explained how we will obtain informed consent from the research project participants.

Our proposal was to obtain informed consent orally by telephone before we conducted telephone interviews.

We were then told that we had to obtain written consent, "but that an electronic signature was sufficient." We made it clear that our informants have neither computers nor are they users of the internet.

We were then informed that we could ask for a scanned signature instead. Once again, we repeated that our informants do not have such technological aids, and that they are informants in our study precisely because they are not users of modern technology.

At last, NSD approved our request to ask respondents for verbal consent.

Not everyone is connected

The problem is that we have become so attached to the everyday electronic aids we take so much for granted that we find it difficult to imagine existing without them.

This problem is not a new one. In the 1970's, large, allegedly generalisable, surveys were conducted using standardised telephone interviews.

The problem at the time was that not everyone had a telephone, even though it had become common in the social world that the researchers were a part of.

Something similar probably occurs in today’s health care system where employees work hard to vaccinate the population in the most efficient way possible. They send out both text messages and emails and then expect the information to be received.

Older people are less likely to be online

Norway ranks high in terms of the spread of modern technology and digital competence within its population.

When it comes to the elderly, we are worldbeaters. Among those between the ages of 70 and 80, about 70 percent are on the internet daily or weekly, according to the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir).

In the age group of 80 to 100 years, 43 percent are on the internet daily or weekly (Forskning.no 2017). 

However, leading the pack is not of much use when 57 percent of the oldest members of society cannot be reached using digital information.

If we want to reach everyone, we must reach each person on their own terms. In this case, it is not just a question of rights and democracy, but a question of life and death.

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Published: 08/03/2021
Last updated: 09/03/2021
Text: Marit Haldar | Erik Børve Rasmussen | Clemet Askheim | Julia Köhler-Olsen | Lars E. F. Johannessen
Photo: Mike Schröder / Argus / Samfoto