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Covid-19: Chinese migrants struggle to get jabs due to language barrier

Lucy Xia

7 Sept 2021

Chinese migrants with language barriers are struggling to book and get Covid-19 vaccinations.

Community leaders and an organisation working with the Chinese community say there needs to be more proactive dissemination of information through ethnic platforms, and dedicated group vaccination events could help.

Kelly Feng, director of support organisation Asian Family Services (AFS), acknowledged the Government’s efforts in translating vaccine related information into other languages, but said it needed to go beyond the Ministry of Health’s website.

“It’s still on an English [language] website and can’t be accessed by ethnic communities,” she said.

“No non-English speaker will go on an English website to get translated information.”

Chinese Women Association founder Stella Li said for about two weeks, she had been receiving about a dozen calls each day from Chinese Kiwis asking about the locations of drive-through vaccination centres.

The Government’s communication with ethnic communities about the vaccine roll-out was “not good enough”, she said.

Howick ward councillor and Counties Manukau District Health Board member Paul Young said he has been contacted by several hundred people – mainly middle-aged and elderly Chinese Kiwis – asking about the vaccine and how to get vaccinated since the beginning of the roll-out.

Young said Asian people had the highest vaccination rates in the country, but there needed to be a continued push for information to reach all corners of the community.

Lumping all Asians into one category also didn’t capture the differences in vaccination rates between different Asian ethnic groups, he said.

De Li Yu and Yang Lin Li, who both work in construction in Huntly, said they did not know how to book their vaccinations.

When they arrived at a vaccination clinic in Hamilton, they could not communicate with the nurses and had to call Stuff for translation.

“The process might be easy for locals, but for us, every sentence is an obstacle,” Li said.

AFS wants to run a group vaccination event for the Chinese community, provided in their language. It is currently in discussions with the Ministry of Health.

Feng said it would be particularly beneficial for hard-to-reach people, such as overstayers and migrant workers who don’t speak English.

A Ministry of Health spokesman told Stuff the set-up of targeted vaccination centres for Pacific communities has seen an increase in vaccine uptake from 33.7 per cent before the lockdown to 53.8 per cent currently.

Astrid Koornneef, group manager of Covid-19 vaccination operations, said the Ministry of Health was working with district health boards and the Ministry of Ethnic Communities to ensure translated information was reaching communities.

Vaccination promotion material had been translated into 37 languages, and distributed through DHBs, health providers, community groups and employers of the migrant workforce.

DHBs and health providers were also being supported to help get migrant workers vaccinated through opportunities such as mobile clinics, walk-in vaccinations and pop-up centres, she said.

The ministry said it was working with DHBs to see what further assistance could be provided, which might include women-only vaccination days and having ethnic community members present to help with translation.

It said a group vaccination event organised by the Waitematā DHB for more than 100 members of the Filipino community was held on September 1, with more sessions planned in Auckland for Sikh, Vietnamese and pan-ethnic communities.

It said it was also looking at providing phone-based translation services at vaccination sites.

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