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Website Identifies Vaccine Barriers for Asian-Language Speakers

Asian Health Services in Oakland, Calif., unveiled a new website to document incidents of inaccessibility on vaccine websites. The site allows people to make reports in 10 languages other than English.

Asian elder finishes receiving vaccine
(TNS) — Language barriers often hinder Asian Americans' access to lifesaving coronavirus vaccines, says a coalition led by a Bay Area health center.

To measure and highlight the problem, Asian Health Services in Oakland unveiled a new website Monday to collect and publish such stories from around the country.
"With the intense increase in anti-Asian hate this year, we understand the necessity of documenting and raising the visibility of these experiences," said Thu Quach, Asian Health Services' chief deputy of administration.
As California and the nation embark on the broadest possible distribution of shots to inoculate against the coronavirus, examples are emerging of translation errors and omissions on websites and in verbal communications that can hinder people with limited or no English skills.
Officials from Asian Health Services, which is leading the five-member coalition, provided examples of such stories, including some from the organization's own clients:
  • A Contra Costa couple who speak only Vietnamese delayed getting their COVID-19 vaccine by several weeks because they didn't understand the instructions in English for how or where to get the shot.
  • Staff members at Asian Health Services who reviewed California's MyTurn vaccine website for clients found the Vietnamese translations riddled with errors, making comprehension difficult.
  • The Oakland Coliseum mass vaccination site promises translation services for languages beyond just Spanish, but after Asian Health staff members tried unsuccessfully for half an hour to get an interpreter for Chinese languages, Vietnamese or Korean, they gave up.
The federal Title VI law requires federally funded programs to provide "meaningful language assistance to individuals who do not speak English well," Quach said. aims to "collect data when meaningful language assistance is not provided," the new website explains. "Please let us know if you or someone you know have run into problems getting the vaccine because of language."
The site allows people to make reports in 10 languages other than English: Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, Khmer, Korean, Mongolian, Nepali, Tagalog, Urdu and Vietnamese. The others in the coalition behind the site are the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Asian American Research Center on Health, Progressive Vietnamese American Organization, and One Nation.
Nine stories have been collected to inaugurate the website, including five from the Bay Area, two from New York, one from Washington state and one from Houston. In the Bay Area, Quach submitted examples from her own observation — including the two about the state-run sites MyTurn and the Oakland Coliseum.
After her staff found multiple errors in the Vietnamese language translation, Quach reported on that it looked like the state had used Google Translate, an app known for occasionally bungling translations. She wrote: "We were disappointed in the lack of quality control and communicated it to the people of MyTurn."
She also reported her staff's inability to receive over-the-phone translations promised at the Oakland Coliseum mass vaccination site, writing: "This is yet another example of the barriers our limited-English-proficient, Asian-Pacific Islander communities face when it comes to language access."
Darrel Ng, spokesman for the state's vaccination efforts, said California is well aware of the need to reach residents of all languages, and makes translators available in at least 200 languages "to ensure that language is not a barrier to getting a vaccine."
Ng said the state does not use Google Translate, and said his office will reach out to Asian Health Services to learn what specific errors the site may have. He also noted that MyTurn is available in 11 languages besides English: Armenian, Japanese, Khmer, Punjabi, Russian, Chinese — simplified and traditional — Korean, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Also, Ng said, the state has "prioritized reaching the API community" by running TV ads in 10 Asian languages since March 29 in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles with a frequently asked questions format specific to the Asian American community. The ads began on April 1.
Quach said that California should have begun those ads months ago, and that the state's MyTurn site had begun with translations only in Spanish. "I think the state should work with community health centers to provide culturally and linguistically competent materials," she said. "Our staff are the community. It's not enough to provide translation. We know how to address a lot of the barriers and cultural hesitancy" toward vaccinations.
As for the Contra Costa County couple whose shots were delayed because they could not understand instructions in English, county spokesman Scott Alonso said that an API work group has helped the county reach out to Asian Americans. The county has also distributed a vaccine eligibility flyer in 11 languages, including Punjabi, Thai, Farsi and Lao.
"These kinds of reports are always concerning and remind us that our work with historically marginalized communities is vital and never done," Alonso said. He said the county's vaccine call center offers many languages, but gave a phone number for people to call if they have complaints: 833-829-2626. A call to that number on Monday offered two language options: English or Spanish.
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