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Do Arizona COVID-19 vaccination sites have enough bilingual assistance?

Vaccination site
Posted at 7:02 PM, Jan 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-16 21:10:55-05

GLENDALE, AZ — Spanish is the second most-spoken language in Arizona, according to the U.S Census.

So, how are we making sure Spanish speakers are getting the proper information about getting vaccinated in their own language?

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ABC15 reached out to The Arizona Department of Health Services requesting the number of Spanish language interpreters helping at the vaccination site located at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

A spokesperson told us they had a contract with a company that provides Spanish language interpreters as well as American Sign Language (ASL) and help for the visually impaired 24/7.

But when we requested the actual number of interpreters present on site, we were told the following:

“We have the resources to provide interpretation in Spanish, I’m not going to bother people on the weekend to get you an answer for an exact number.”

“When the state’s population is a third Latino, and many of those Latinos speak only Spanish or is the language of comfort, I think that we need to make that language option available,” stated Cesar Chavez, Arizona State Representative for District 29.

Chavez represents the largest Latino population in Maricopa County, State Farm Stadium is located within the district he serves.

He says having Spanish interpreters is crucial.

However, on Tuesday, Jan. 12., during ABC15’s coverage about the issue, we were informed by the interpreters helping that day that there were only two of them.

“Two interpreters are not enough when you’re rolling out a massive vaccination effort here in Arizona, especially in an area that’s predominantly Latino,” said Chavez.

Meanwhile, in other states like Texas, the planning for Spanish interpreters at vaccination sites is quite different from Arizona’s.

“In Texas, just like in Arizona, many of the folks that follow under group 1B are Latino and because the predominant age group is 65 or older, there are also a lot of immigrants that need this help and the translation services to get a vaccine,” stated Juany Torres a bilingual volunteer at a vaccination site in San Antonio, Texas.

San Antonio, Texas is an area with a similar demographic as Phoenix. But, unlike us, says Torres, they do have Spanish speakers helping in not only one, but three specific points of contact.

“We have Spanish speakers at the beginning of the line, so that from the very beginning, they know they’re going to be greeted and welcomed in their language. Then there were a couple of Spanish speakers in the middle of the process and then of course at the end, to be runners for the doctors.”

So why doesn’t Maricopa County have a plan like the one in Texas? We reached out to the Maricopa County Health Department; they released the following statement:

“As we roll out vaccines to more populations, we will be implementing more and more options to serve all members of our community. Our call center has bilingual volunteers to help those who need assistance in Spanish, and we have a contracted vendor who can provide us additional support in many other languages on-demand for both phone and in-person needs. We are ramping up availability of translation services as we expand so that anyone in Maricopa County can get medical information in the language, they feel most comfortable in.”


“There are plans to have at least five sites in the Valley and get interpreters for that,” stated Bill Peters, a manager of language services contracted to assist at the vaccination sites in the Valley.

But do we have enough vaccination supply for five sites? Chavez says there’s a shortage in rural areas.

“A lot of individuals from Pima, Pinal, Yuma, and Navajo county are coming down to Maricopa to get vaccinated because they’re receiving a smaller of a number as 100 vaccines. That needs to get amplified, we need to get more vaccines to the rural areas and ensure that they’re also receiving the same or similar services as out here in Maricopa County.”

Maricopa County has a call center available with a bilingual staff to assist the Spanish-speaking community. You can contact them at 602-542-1000 or at 211.