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Spanish Speakers Eligible For Vaccine Frustrated By Language Barrier03:54
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En español, traducido por El Planeta Media.

Massachusetts residents over 75 years old can now try to make an online appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. But with limited supplies and increasing demand, finding a booking is not an easy task. And for non-English speakers, navigating the site has an extra level of difficulty.

Staff members at the Chelsea Senior Center say they receive dozens of calls each day from Spanish-speaking residents asking for help getting an appointment. Other callers ask about the effectiveness of the vaccines or their eligibility for the inoculation based on immigration status.

Many residents "fear not knowing how to do it, not wanting to go through the process of being on the computer. It gets frustrating and then there’s the language barrier," said Tracy Nowicki, director of senior services for the City of Chelsea. "We need something a little bit more user friendly for our seniors, especially our non-English speaking ones."

The United Healthcare Workers Union has asked the state to provide a multilingual customer service hotline. In the meantime, the website remains the primary way to get the COVID-19 shot, and it uses a Google plug-in that translates the information into several languages.

Still, users have reported to El Planeta that it does not work on certain mobile phones. And once a user clicks on a clinic from the site's map, it takes you to that provider's website, where people are asked to fill out a form that, in most cases, is only available in English.

Older adults aren't the only people having a hard time. Many health care workers have not been able to get vaccinated. Carmen Lamarche, a Dominican woman who works as a personal care assistant for elderly and disabled patients in Lawrence, is among them.

"I have tried to make an appointment for myself, but the system always says there is nothing available," Lamarche said. After weeks of trying, all Lamarche managed to get was an appointment in Worcester, which she turned down because it's more than an hour away from her home. Lamarche takes care of two elderly seniors who have asked her for help getting vaccine appointments of their own.

“If I haven't been able to get it for myself, what will this mean for them?” she asked.

Getting vaccinated has been more difficult for home caregivers because they do not have a centralized employer that can provide them with the vaccine, but instead have to find the appointment on their own, according to United Healthcare Workers Union Vice President for Homecare Rebecca Gutman. About 30% of the union's personal home caregivers (PCAs) are immigrants, she said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the state would update the site each Thursday with new appointment times for mass vaccination clinics, which include Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, and the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers. A total of seven sites will open in the next 10 days, Baker said, noting that there are currently about a million people eligible to get vaccinated in the state.

Most of these vaccination centers are not close to immigrant communities, Gutman said.

“We definitely want to see more sites open up with more availability in places like Lawrence, Lynn or Holyoke," adding that the union wants all of the centers to have Spanish-speaking staff who can clarify questions from patients.

Chelsea, in partnership with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, will open a vaccination clinic at 318 Broadway on Thursday, according to City Manager Tom Ambrosino. Eligible residents will be eligible to request free roundtrip transportation to receive both doses. Health center patients can contact their primary physician directly to make an appointment.

This article was originally published on February 03, 2021.

This segment aired on February 3, 2021.

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Tibisay Zea Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Tibisay Zea is a Venezuelan journalist based in Boston.

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