Lost in Translation

More Language Diversity, More Vaccination Appointments

It’s no secret that more available languages, whether that means a voice over the phone, recorded, in-person, or translated online, guarantees our country will be more successful at providing vaccines for all of its residents. One would like to think that by now, this relatively routine act of providing translators and/or interpreters for something as important as COVID vaccinations would be handled more smoothly, but this does not seem to be the case.

In a recent article in Kaiser Health News (KHN), by Rachana Pradhan, she points out that despite Virginia’s February launch of a centralized website and call center for COVID pre-registration, there was a serious “glitch that could prove fatal for non-English speakers trying to secure a shot.” Apparently, callers requesting an interpreter through the hotline would be briefly put on hold and then hung up on. That wasn’t the only problem plaguing this broken system. There are only two languages offered, and you either pressed “1 for English” or “2 for Spanish.” Virginia is home to so many other languages that are left off the option-list here; languages such as: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Mongolian and Amharic. Anyone speaking these languages would need translation in order to secure their spot in line for the vaccine. In March, a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll found “that among adults who have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, 39% said someone else had helped them find or schedule an appointment.”

While the language barrier is perhaps the main deterrent here for non/limited-English speakers, there is also the continued inequity when it comes to immigrant populations and the lower technology literacy rates—or limited access to technology at all. It’s not that immigrant communities don’t want to be vaccinated; these barriers keep them from doing so. According to the U.S. Census in 2019, approximately “5.3 million U.S. households have limited English proficiency… [and] nearly 68 million people speak a language other than English at home.”

ACSI’s role is so important, perhaps now more than ever, while our non-English or limited-English speaking communities still suffer from lack of language access equity during this continuously critical time. Every resident deserves to understand and be understood when reaching out for a life-saving vaccine such as this.