How translation can help in vaccinating the world
May 16, 2023

How translation can help in vaccinating the world

It’s five months into 2021, and the world is still struggling to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. But unlike last year, this year, the vaccines have arrived. The question is, how accessible are the vaccines to everyone?

Accessibility is not just about physical access to the vaccine – though that too has been difficult in some countries. But access is also about understanding information related to the vaccine.

It’s especially important as there might be some misconceptions around the vaccine. If all information about the vaccine is available in one’s own language, it can inspire confidence and increase awareness about it.

What needs to be translated?

Vaccine information statements (VISs)

This is a US-specific document. VISs are information sheets produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). VISs explain both the benefits and risks of a vaccine to adult vaccine recipients and the parents or legal representatives of vaccines who are children and adolescents. US federal law requires that VISs be handed out whenever certain vaccinations are given (before each dose). It also mandates that the information be translated. Translations for up to 30 languages are available on the Immunization Action Coalition website.

Currently, a full VIS does not seem to be available for the Covid-19 vaccine on the IAC website. However, translations of the fact sheet for recipients and caregivers are available for each of the three major vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen. The translations are currently in more than 25 languages, including Native American languages such as Cherokee and Navajo, and Micronesian languages such as Marshallese and Mam.

Information people are looking for

The CDC recognizes that some people might be concerned about taking a very new vaccine. It says that communication is vital in inspiring confidence for people to accept the vaccine. The information has to be “timely; clear, culturally and linguistically appropriate, accurate, relevant, and actionable” [PDF]. The translation is an important part of such communication efforts.

The information that people are looking for about the vaccine includes:

  • How safe is the vaccine?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Will there be any additional side effects if I am taking a certain medication?
  • How well does it work?
  • Where to get the vaccine?

Apart from the above, a Covid-19 vaccine communication kit should contain:

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Slide deck
  • Plain language fact sheet
  • Posters
  • Social media images and sample messages

All of this needs to be in the language of the local community for which it is intended. The responsibility for translation needs to be taken up by the government, pharmaceutical companies, or both to expedite matters.

For whom do you need to translate?

Everyone likes to have critical data in their language for better understanding. If you think it’s enough for the information to be in the major language(s) of a country, think again. We live in a globalized world. And, if anything, the pandemic is, unfortunately proof of this.

To beat the spread of the virus, you need more open and smart thinking. The major cities of the world are all homes to immigrants from elsewhere. Not all of them may speak, much less read the major languages of the country they are currently living in. The translation is critical to access life-saving information for such people with limited English proficiency (LEP).

In the United States, vaccine information needs to be translated for Hispanics and other immigrant population. In January this year, it became clear that not all states in the US had taken this as seriously as they should have. A translation error on the Virginia Department of Health website ended up saying that the vaccine was not necessary. The site listed three marketing agencies and Google Translate as the source of these translations. The marketing agencies were not translation companies. Google itself has cautioned that medical providers should not use its free online tool for translations.

Some developed countries such as Australia have launched their vaccine drives with translations into 60+ languages.

In developing countries such as India, most of the information on health department websites, including the CoWIN Website for vaccination, is only in English, or at the most, in Hindi. However, the nation speaks 22 official languages and translating into just a couple of languages won’t cut it.

Similarly, in several other countries in Africa, Europe, or Asia where multilingual societies exist, the need for vaccine translation is immediate.

How can translation companies help?

Translation companies cannot just translate but also use their experience and knowledge of translation technology to quickly and effectively scale up the entire process. Below we list some challenges with translating Covid-19 information and how translation companies can help:

Pressing timelines. Each country is racing to have its people vaccinated. The more information you can provide to people in their language, it helps in getting vaccinations done in a faster and safer way. Language service providers (LSPs) can use tools to manage terminology and the translation workflow. They can also create a database of translations that can be quickly used in the future if the same content needs to be re-published. Cloud-based translation portals offer a range of solutions, such as providing context to the translator so that she can accurately understand how a term is meant to be used and translate accordingly.

Plain language. If translations are jargon-ridden, it is pointless. LSPs with extensive experience in health content translation can digest medical jargon and produce reader-friendly and accurate documents. These documents also need to use culturally appropriate images and graphics to convey messages quickly.

Interpreting services. They are mandatorily needed at vaccination centres to help LEP people find their way and get the job done.

Linguistic review. Errors must not get published in health-related information. Professional, experienced translators and reviewers are best placed to translate health content and review it.

Video translation. It is not just text that needs to be translated, but awareness and update videos too. Subtitling is the fastest and most affordable way to get this done for vaccine videos. Video translation is highly effective in reaching out to people and conveying a forceful message.

Translation and localization industry think tank Common Sense Advisory has time and again said the people will not buy what they cannot read. They will not buy because they do not completely trust the information that is not in their mother tongue. In its 2020 update, CSA said, “…the post Covid-19 preference for local language support is growing due to digital transformation.”

We urgently need people to understand everything they need to know about the Covid-19 vaccine, so that they feel confident enough to take it. Translated information is also necessary to make sure people fully understand the side effects and how they need to stay safe even after taking the shot.

Translation has saved many a life in healthcare scenarios. This time round, we need it more urgently to save the world.

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