This week, doctors began administering the first of two anticipated coronavirus vaccines in the United States, BNT162b2. Unlike the United Kingdom where initial non-trial recipients were elderly patients, the Americans first in line are health care workers. Will this include interpreters?
Because of the way the US government is structured, each of the country’s 50 states has discretion in determining its own vaccine rollout plan. New York’s first non-trial dose of BNT162b2 went to an intensive care unit nurse in Queens, one of the New York City boroughs hit hardest by covid-19. In Kentucky, the chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health took the first shot. Mara Youdelman, managing attorney for the National Health Law Program, says vaccine availability for interpreters “is also going to play out state-by-state as it’s the states who I believe are ultimately deciding priorities and distribution early on.”
“From my armchair epidemiologist’s perspective, everyone in the building gets the shot,” says Bill Rivers, lobbyist for the Association of Language Companies — “front desk personnel, security, maintenance, etc, would all need to be inoculated. [Interpreters] included.”
Youdelman says, “I agree with Bill that anyone working physically in a hospital, in whatever role, should be a front-line worker and first in line for a vaccine.”
Problem is, there may not be enough. To date, the United States has only purchased 100 million doses; the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses per person to work. As such, reports The New York Times, “A majority of the first injections…are expected to go to high-risk health care workers. In many cases, this first, limited delivery would not supply nearly enough doses to inoculate all of the doctors, nurses, security guards, receptionists and other workers who risk being exposed to the virus every day” — including interpreters.
Then there’s the question of in-house versus freelance. While Youdelman and Rivers agree both classifications would need the vaccine, administering it is another issue. In the past, hospitals have pushed Joint Commission-required inoculations off on the language services provider (LSP) or onto the individual contractor to arrange. Smaller LSPs may not have the first clue in how to go about securing vaccines for their interpreters — not to mention the added administration headache. “It would be a travesty for a health care organization to fob this off on the language service companies,” Rivers says, “You can bet your a** that every doctor on site will get the vaccination, even if a great many are not actually employees of the health care facility.”