Today I’m talking to Marta *, an employee of the National COVID Immunization Programme hotline. Marta contacted us after watching one of our videos on our fanpage on social media, documenting a conversation with the NPS hotline.
She wanted to tell us what their work looks like and explain why it is difficult to get answers to some of the questions and doubts we have.
How did you become an employee of the National Immunization Programme hotline?
I joined the company because nowadays it was difficult to find anything else that I could combine with my studies. At the beginning, I was working on another project, where over time our hours began to be cut – there was no need for this particular line. Suddenly we got the information that everyone is switching to another project. As it turned out later, it was the NPS hotline.
Each employee was given a script to read and perform a knowledge test, which consisted of banal questions (e.g. what companies will provide vaccines in Poland?). After passing the test, everyone was authorized to work on the line of the National COVID-19 Immunization Program. Nobody asked if we wanted another project, nobody trained us somehow before this project. Everything was based on sending a script update, in which, in fact, a lot of answers were structured in such a way that when you ask a question, you get an answer from which you do not learn anything new.
Who employs you / with whom did you sign an employment contract?
I signed the contract with an external company, a large corporation operating throughout the country. However, if someone asked me on the line about my supervisor, I should say that it is the Director of the Customer Service Department, Headquarters of the National Health Fund.
How have you been prepared for work? Was there any training?
As I said before, the training consisted in sending us a script from which we were to take answers. Of course, it is impossible to remember it, so when a difficult question arises, we have to search for a keyword in the script, and if the answer is not there, we simply do not answer it. Then we send a query to the manager, wait for the answer in the next update of the script and, if necessary, call the client back if such a response appears.
Do you feel well prepared for this job? Do you have full knowledge to answer people’s questions?
From the very beginning I felt as green as grass about this subject. The more so, because we knew that journalists or medics, whose knowledge is much greater, could call us. In order to be substantively prepared for such work, at least some decent training would be useful, and in fact we do not have more knowledge than what can be found on the government website.
What is your work experience? What is your medical / pharmaceutical knowledge?
I have no experience or medical knowledge. I am a student of a field of study that does not coincide with what I am doing now.
Who works on this hotline? The media and marketing message assured us that there are experts there to dispel our fears. Do pharmacists / medics work there? How many people serve this line?
Students usually work on the hotline – we can set the schedule ourselves, which does not interfere with classes at the university. The line is currently operated by about 500 people and we have already been forbidden to introduce ourselves with our first and last names when answering calls. Instead, we are assigned numbers and they will be used to „introduce” ourselves at the beginning of the conversation.
I think medics and pharmacists have a different job than sitting at the phone. In the company, I haven’t met any experts in this field. Any questions that are not included in the script go to the National Health Fund, although analyzing some of their statements, I am inclined to say that they have experts there… who avoid giving the right answers.
The hotline is available 24/7. What hourly system do you work in?
Usually we work from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Everyone decides on their own schedule. We have 25 hours a week to do. During the holiday season, they actually needed a few people to work over nights.
How many people do you serve daily during your work?
It all depends on the day and what they say on TV. As soon as there is some new information (which will have often not reached us yet), the phones can ring every 3 minutes or even more often. But there are also days when you sit and wait 20 minutes for a connection. Sometimes I have around 60 phone calls a day, and sometimes 10 people will call throughout the day. A bit of a lottery.
What was the most difficult question asked by a caller?
Oh my. It’s hard to choose, because there are a lot of difficult questions, as the script is incomplete. However, there is one question that has been bothering me a lot so far.
The list of chronic diseases that do not exclude a person from being vaccinated is quite long. This list also includes diabetes – that is, a person suffering from diabetes can theoretically get vaccinated.
The vaccine manufacturer, on the other hand, mentions anaphylactic reaction, severe allergies, pregnancy and feeding, and blood coagulation disorders as contraindications to vaccination. As it is commonly known, diabetics may develop blood coagulation disorders …
So what is the correct answer in the end?
Are there things in your script that you are not allowed to say about vaccinations?
We were not given information that we cannot pass on, but we were instructed that we cannot answer any questions that are not included in the script.
Do you know what the real contraindications for vaccination are?
As I said before, according to vaccine manufacturers – anaphylactic reaction, severe allergies, blood clotting disorders, pregnancy and feeding.
And of course the age group, if it is so safe, why is the vaccine only allowed to people over 18?
Do you have to answer every question?
We do not have to, but when there is a question that we do not know the answer to, we have to call the customer back as soon as we get the answer. In this way, the list of numbers to be called back increases, and the answers are still not there.
There are more and more doctors and scientists in the social dialogue questioning the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine. What do you, employees of the hotline, know about it?
When it comes to all information about vaccines that would undermine their miraculous power, we need to find it out on our own. Topics that are incompatible with the script are not discussed here. On the company’s chat, there was a message that any „conspiracy theories” would be treated as spam, so there is no point in even trying to discuss the effectiveness of vaccines.
It is just that everyone has to believe in them, or at least pretend that they believe in them.Even if some of the callers start a discussion on this topic, we should not continue it, listen patiently and stick to the script.
So you do not really dispel any doubts … What about people who cannot get vaccinated because of the contraindications mentioned by the manufacturer? Will they, too, be segregated and discriminated against like all who do not get vaccinated? What does your script say?
Unfortunately, there is nothing in the script about this. It only says that in case of doubt, the vaccination can be postponed (e.g. in the case of people undergoing treatment with chemotherapy). Any contraindications are to be dispelled before the vaccination itself – that is, on the day of vaccination, everyone will be tested and will fill out the qualification card. Of course, the type of test is not described anywhere, so it is not known whether they will test the blood or simply auscultate the patient and see whether someone can get vaccinated.
Sorry for the indiscreet question, but the public would like to know. How much do you earn for such work?
Currently, we earn 17 zlotys per hour, of course for students it is PLN 17 net. From January, they are to increase the rate to PLN 18.20.
Do you know what mRNA is?
This is the genetic information that, when injected into cells, is to allow the production of pathogen proteins. When the mRNA is injected, the cells begin to produce a protein (which is found on the surface of the virus) to stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. It is said that the RNA molecule is to be rapidly degraded after protein production. Unfortunately, I have never really been interested in virology, so I am not able to judge how it all works.
Will you get vaccinated yourself?
There are too many unknowns in all of this. I will not get vaccinated.
Thank you very much, Martha *, that you wanted to answer our questions and explain what working on the hotline looks like in practice – hotline advertised as specialist and dispelling any doubts.
* name has been changed for interview purposes.
Interview conducted by
Stolik Wolności/Freedom Table