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Medical students improve access to COVID-19 vaccine information for multilingual community

UMass Medical School Communications

May 05, 2021

A group of first-year School of Medicine students are working to increase the accessibility of COVID-19 information for non-English speaking residents of Worcester. The students recruited volunteers to provide multilingual services and materials on the coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccines.

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From left: First-year School of Medicine students Sarah Danforth, Maia Fefer, Laura Labb and Sabine Shaughnessy

Maia Fefer, Sarah Danforth, Sabine Shaughnessy and Laura Labb are all fluent Spanish speakers. Their group provides document translation, in-person vaccine clinic translation and one-on-one phone calls in a variety of languages, in collaboration with the student-run Crisis and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

“It’s amazing and impressive how many people are on board with our initiatives and wanted to help out,” said Fefer. “When the COVID-19 vaccination efforts began, we jumped right in to make this a multilingual effort. We want to be a part of the solution to make education about COVID-19 more accessible for our diverse patients.”

“It is every person’s right to know what COVID-19 symptoms are, what to expect after receiving the vaccine and where they can sign up for a vaccine,” said Shaughnessy. “Health equity is at the forefront of our minds with this project. With vaccine hesitancy on the rise, we want to create equal opportunity and disseminate useful information across the Worcester area and beyond.”

The group has teams of student volunteers that work in partnership with the Worcester Housing Authority. COVID-19 information materials in Spanish are posted on the Worcester Free Care Collaborative website and distributed within the housing authority. Students are translating numerous other online fact sheets and documents into Portuguese and Arabic that will educate and inform additional patients on a variety of COVID-19 topics. These will also be posted on the Worcester Free Collaborative website.

Additionally, more than 40 trained student volunteers who speak Spanish, Arabic and Vietnamese are vaccinating patients at Worcester Housing Authority and Department of Public Health sites. The students are helping patients gain a better understanding of the vaccine and helping them feel more comfortable with their decisions.

Student volunteers also make individualized phone calls to community members, offering language options in English, Spanish and Arabic. In conjunction with the Worcester Housing Authority, volunteers contact people who are seeking more information about the vaccine and discuss any concerns they have.

“This project has highlighted the many ways students can get involved and make a difference,” said Danforth. “It’s an opportunity for those who speak several languages to help the community and use their skills towards something good.”

Related stories on UMassMed News:
UMMS students bring COVID-19 vaccine to underserved downtown Worcester
UMass Medical School launches Vaccine Corps, backed by philanthropy, to support statewide vaccine rollout
UMass Medical School students among volunteers at opening of Worcester’s first large-scale vaccine site