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Municipal Politics

Seniors in Chinatown Need Help Accessing Vaccine Information, Say Advocates

With vaccination of older residents set to begin, lack of translated information and other barriers could limit campaign’s effectiveness.

Jen St. Denis 2 Mar 2021 |

Jen St. Denis is The Tyee’s Downtown Eastside reporter. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

A group of Chinatown advocates are calling on Vancouver Coastal Health to involve them in the COVID-19 vaccination effort and provide more information in Chinese to seniors as Phase Two of vaccinations starts in B.C.

Vancouver Coastal Health initially said translated information would be available in Phase Three of the vaccination plan, expected in mid-April. After publication of this story, VCH communications staff sent The Tyee a link to a page that includes translated vaccine information.**

Phase Two will eventually see seniors 80 or over and Indigenous people 65 or over vaccinated. The process will begin Monday, when people 90 and over and Indigenous people 75 and over will be allowed to make appointments to be vaccinated starting the following week.

Michael Tan is the vice-president of the Chau Luen Society, which operates an apartment building for Chinese seniors at Keefer Street and Gore Avenue in Chinatown.

He says his group wants to see Vancouver Coastal Health do more to support vaccination in the community based on what it saw during an initial push in February to vaccinate people living in the Downtown Eastside.

That vaccination program targeted people living in shelters or supportive housing or people who are unhoused. For the elderly Chinese people who lined up for vaccinations, many of whom don’t speak much English, it could have gone better, Tan said.

“There was an extreme lack of translated information, volunteers or even staff that could provide linguistically accessible information relating to the vaccination,” Tan said, adding that it also wasn’t ideal for the seniors to be waiting in line outside in the rain and cold.

Tan said Chinese seniors are vulnerable to misinformation questioning the safety of vaccines, so it’s important to provide accurate printed information in Mandarin or Cantonese. Seniors are often seeing misinformation through WeChat, a Chinese-language social media app.

“That's their only way to access the news through the internet, and they get clippings from friends,” Tan said.

Tan estimates that 1,900 seniors living in independent housing in Chinatown and Strathcona will be eligible for the next round of vaccinations. He said he expects seniors who have trouble speaking or understanding English will also need help with making appointments to get vaccinated over the phone or online.

Tan is urging Vancouver Coastal Health to make a plan to vaccinate people where they live, in spaces like building lobbies or common rooms of the independent living buildings operated by societies like his. He said he and other Chinatown advocates have been searching for translated material on the Vancouver Coastal Health and provincial Health Ministry websites, but haven’t been able to find anything.

After Tan started speaking to the media about the issue, Vancouver Coastal Health staff asked him for feedback on translated materials they are preparing. But the health authority has not yet committed to mobile vaccination clinics, Tan said today.

In a letter sent to Vancouver Coastal Health last week, Tan asked it to “provide vaccination information printed on flyers translated into Chinese and direct your staff to liaise with providers of seniors' living residences like Chau Luen Society, seniors’ outreach groups like the SRO Collaborative and Yarrow Intergenerational Society, and also City of Vancouver staff so that these vulnerable seniors can access COVID vaccine information and the vaccination process itself, in a timely and safe manner.

“A co-ordinated effort to ensure vulnerable seniors in Chinatown/Strathcona have translated information and access to the COVID vaccine is urgently needed.”

In response to questions from The Tyee, Vancouver Coastal Health said it will be working “closely with community partners, providers and agencies to ensure all eligible residents have access to the information they need regarding COVID-19 vaccines. This will include the translation of pertinent information about the vaccine and how individuals can register for vaccination once they are eligible, in addition to other translation supports.”

*Story updated on March 3 at 1:44 p.m. to correct the ages of those included in Phase Two of the vaccine rollout.
**Story updated on March 4 at 2:37 p.m. to include newly-translated information from Vancouver Coastal Health about the vaccine.  [Tyee]

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