Many people from refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities experience significant logistical barriers to COVID-19 vaccination. Some vaccine campaigns rely on internet-based registration and utilize locations that accommodate large numbers of people for vaccine administration. This strategy may be ineffective for many RIM communities due to linguistic limitations, unreliable internet access and overall internet navigation barriers. Community members may not have reliable internet access or be familiar with the internet. Additionally, COVID-19 vaccine registration websites may not be in the preferred written language or accessible for those of varying English proficiencies. Though smartphones have improved internet access, living in areas with poor phone signal or limited data plans continue to reduce COVID-19 vaccine registration access.
The Role of the Interpretation Companies
Partnerships with interpretation service companies are essential to reach refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities, maximize resources, and improve the delivery of services and resources. Community-based organizations are uniquely positioned to connect RIM communities to culturally and linguistically appropriate COVID-19 vaccine information and access through interpretation companies that are medically certified.
Many CBOs already provide culturally and linguistically appropriate client services by contracting with interpretation companies. These companies expand the capacity of CBOs by supporting clients during medical appointments and overall healthcare navigation. Medical interpreters may also register people from RIM communities for COVID-19 vaccine appointments and answer questions during the vaccination sign-up process. This strategy may improve COVID-19 education and vaccine uptake.
Vaccinating RIM Communities in Maine
Northern Light Mercy Hospital holds a majority volunteer-run COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Portland, Maine. The clinic is a partnership between the State of Maine and the City of Portland, funded by the state to support the COVID-19 response. In order to improve vaccination sign-up for people in RIM communities, they have a dedicated link for contracted medical interpreters to use during doctor’s appointments to follow up with a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. This allows for continuity in healthcare, continued involvement with the interpreter, and comfort for the client knowing they will have support during their vaccine appointment. The interpreters often try to register people in from RIM communities in groups. “People were getting vaccinated with other people they knew or who looked like them or who were from the same community as they were," stated by one of the clinic employees. "It really allowed them to have a lot more confidence than if they were in this giant gym with nobody else they knew.”
There is also the option of individual vaccine appointments; however, the option to go as a group appealed to several community members. The dedicated link for the interpretation companies reduced the logistical burden on the patients and improved vaccination registration.