ISANS playing key role in assisting province get the right vaccination message out to immigrant community

As Nova Scotia continues its COVID-19 vaccination rollout, the province is encouraging the newcomer population to get vaccinated and is undertaking several initiatives to make that happen. 

“We are in discussion with groups that support newcomers to understand their concerns and identify how best to support their vaccine confidence,” the province says in a statement. 

Based on these discussions, it’s ensuring English materials are written using plain language and/or with pictorial descriptions and it has been translating materials into other languages. 

One of the groups helping with these efforts is the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS). CEO Jennifer Watts says the organization is working with public health to better understand the vaccination program and is in turn working with newcomers to provide information about vaccines and how to get vaccinated.  

She says one common question they’ve received is what is the best vaccine to get, especially given the changes that have taken place with the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

“[We’re] being very proactive and making sure people receive information, understand how they can act on it, ask if they need support and problem solving around making sure they can make that appointment and get the vaccine,” Watts says. 

For people lacking digital literacy skills, ISANS is doing a phone campaign using interpreters to reach people, provide them with information and book appointments for them if they need assistance. 

Vaccines are available to anyone with or without a health card. Online appointments require a health card, while telephone bookings do not. 

“I think people are very appreciative of the vaccines and it’s just a matter of understanding the system because it can be somewhat complex if you don’t have the digital skills or strong language skills to navigate the system,” Watts says. “I think with the efforts on the part of our staff team and supports that public health is offering that we’ll be able to address those issues.” 

One of ISANS’ projects has been to create a sort of Vaccine 101 video for newcomers.  

“As of now, our FAQ videos will be translated into Arabic, Farsi, Swahili, Spanish, and Mandarin,” spokesperson Clancy Waite says via email. “We are working with clients in our bridging programs — internationally educated nurses, doctors, pharmacists, etc. — to create the videos in the different languages. Once we have more volunteers identified, we hope to have the videos made in Somali, Tigrinya, and Oromo.” 

Besides ISANS, it’s unclear what other organizations the province is working with to get information out to newcomers. As well, the province didn’t provide any vaccination statistics amongst the newcomer population. 

“We are staying in close contact with these groups to identify any issues with the rollout,” the province says. “If it is determined that newcomers are not booking appointments, we will continue to explore new ways to increase their access to the vaccine.” 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang has said the province needs to have 75 per cent of its population vaccinated before it can roll back public health restrictions. 

Richard Woodbury

Richard Woodbury

Richard writes for both local and national publications and his work has been published by Reuters, Metro and Enterprise Magazine.

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