A $350 million initiative to improve vaccine rates among underserved communities — including those with limited English proficiency

On Nov. 22, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced a $350 million initiative to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates in underserved communities. That includes efforts to expand on translation and interpretation services to make the vaccines more accessible to individuals with limited English proficiency. 

The Expanding COVID-19 Vaccination initiative will allocate funding to community-based health organizations, which predominantly work with underserved populations, in order to improve and expand upon their efforts to equitably distribute updated COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. As US residents’ attention toward the COVID-19 pandemic declines, the department is hoping to make the vaccinations easier to access for communities that have been overlooked throughout the course of the pandemic — including people who do not have the English proficiency necessary to access information about the vaccines and their administration in the language.

“As community-based organizations that have built deep relationships with their patients and neighborhoods, health centers are uniquely positioned to increase COVID-19 vaccinations,” said Carole Johnson, administrator of the country’s Health Resources and Services Administration. “These funds will ensure that people who live in underserved communities have access to updated COVID-19 vaccines this winter through community-based vaccination events hosted by healthcare providers and organizations they trust.”

Research has shown that it can be inconvenient or difficult for speakers of non-English languages who do not have high levels of English proficiency to access information on COVID-19 and vaccine availability in the US. And a meaningful investment in translation services has long been warranted — as MultiLingual reported last year, at least one local agency found itself in hot water after haphazardly using Google Translate to translate information on the vaccines into Spanish. 

While language access isn’t the primary driving force for the recent initiative, it does play a factor. The funding will primarily go toward expanding vaccination efforts at community health centers — whether that be through extending their hours or by offering more drive-up vaccination events — and the Department of Health and Human Services will also support efforts to translate and interpret information on the vaccines and their availability to make these efforts visible to those who do not speak English.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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