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Outreach efforts look to overcome language, cultural barriers as B.C. begins mass vaccinations

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As B.C. prepares to register its first wave of seniors for COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, leaders in the province's cultural communities are working overtime to get the word out to their members. Emad Agahi reports – Mar 7, 2021

As British Columbia prepares to register its first wave of seniors for COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, leaders in the province’s cultural communities are working overtime to get the word out to their members.

Officials in Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health say their vaccine booking call centres will have interpreters capable of handling a wide variety of languages.

The province has also posted translated vaccine information on its website.

Read more: What you need to know as B.C. opens COVID-19 vaccine bookings for people over 90 on Monday

But concern remains that many seniors with limited English skills could end up left out.

In Surrey, the Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran has stepped up to try and connect with South Asian seniors in the community.

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The temple will be staffing a desk from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day that seniors can reach out to directly, who will book their vaccines for them.

“Everyone’s excited now for the vaccine,” president Narinder Singh Walia told Global News.

“In our community, the oldest people don’t know how to speak English, how to book their appointments, so that’s why we announced last week from tomorrow, we’ll set up a table here, people can phone us, we will book the appointment for them.”

Read more: ‘Complex barriers’: Spreading COVID-19 messaging to Canada’s non-English speakers

Gurdwara leadership has also been printing out relevant information in Punjabi and is organizing rides for seniors to the vaccine clinics when they begin the week of March 15.

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Gurdwara coordinator Neerha Walia said the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the community’s traditionally large weddings and funerals has been devastating.

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It’s one reason they want to see as many people immunized as possible.

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“We are trying to get back as normal as soon as possible. This is the only way, to get the vaccine … if you have a vaccine they will allow more people, we’re waiting for that,” he said.

Indigenous leaders are also stepping up communications in a bid to get as many shots in as many arms as early as possible.

Read more: UBC med student takes COVID-19 health message to South Asian community

Many Indigenous elders in remote communities have already been given a dose of vaccine, and one hard-hit Vancouver Island First Nation was able to offer vaccines to all members last week.

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But for most Indigenous seniors over the age of 65, Monday will be their first chance to sign up for a vaccination.

“We’re phoning them, we’re emailing them, we’re texting them to make sure they’re aware,” Daniel Fontaine, CEO and deputy minister for the Métis Nation British Columbia, told Global News.

There are nearly 90,000 Métis people in British Columbia who are widely dispersed around the province, which Fontaine said can make connecting with them a challenge.

Métis and other Indigenous people are also often wary of the health care system, Fontaine said, often due to experiences of systemic racism.

Read more: Report links racism, poor Indigenous health outcomes in B.C. healthcare

“We also know there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy and a lot of people who are afraid to actually connect in with the health system. As a result of that, we as a government have to work doubly hard,” he said.

Fontaine said he and other Indigenous leadership have been working hard with the province and the various health authorities to ensure that vaccination clinics will be provided in a culturally safe way to members.

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A number of health authorities are offering clinics at Aboriginal Friendship Centres, and Fontaine said officials have looked at other ways to make the experience more open for Indigenous people.

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“You’ll see at many of the clinics there will be Métis nation logos, there will be identifiers within the vaccination clinics to tell people you’re welcome,” he said.

Read more: B.C. First Nation hit hard by COVID-19 begins mass vaccination of all adults

“This is a place your government is partnering with us, we’re working with you, and we think that’s not only symbolic, we think that will have the desired effect of making people feel comfortable.”

Phone lines open at 7 a.m. on Monday for seniors over the age of 90 and Indigenous seniors over the age of 65 to book a vaccination.

You can find out more details on the process for your specific health authority here.

Officials are reminding anyone who is not in the eligible age cohort not to call this week.

-With files from Emad Agahi

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