In California, COVID vaccination appointments are hard to come by, rules and eligibility aren’t clear, and information on the shots can be confusing. For non-English speakers, it can be even more complicated. There are 224 languages reportedly spoken in LA County alone.
Translate COVID is an informational site run by UCLA that tries to bridge that gap. It has resources in 60 different languages and that number is growing. Karen Umemoto is the director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center and helped create the site.
KCRW: Translate COVID was launched in May 2020. What prompted UCLA to establish it?
Karen Umemoto: “We recognized immediately that there is so much information and misinformation coming out about the coronavirus. We know that there are so many non-English speakers in our various Asian and Pacific Islander communities, as well as Spanish speakers … in places especially like Los Angeles. We were just trying to figure out: How could we get this information out to some of the most hard-hit communities?
We kind of built the plane as we were flying it, knowing that there was urgency to get something up so that we could get information out as quickly as possible.”
What kind of information was there when you first started?
“We noticed that there was a lot of translated material beginning to come out from the CDC and local health departments across the country. But there was no central or easy-to-use site that consolidated all of that information.
We began a basically information aggregator where we vetted information from different health departments and sometimes non-profit organizations and pulled them together on this site. But we also realized that we needed more creative ways and kind of fun ways to get information out. So we started creating certain social media materials.
More recently, we noticed that there was a lot of misinformation about the vaccines that would likely cause some vaccine resistance. So we put an FAQ that will be soon in 20 languages. I think we have 18 up now that has a lot of information just about the vaccines.”
Since December, the top searched items have been related to vaccines. What kind of questions are people asking?
“We have answers to … basic questions like ‘why is it important to take the vaccine?,’ ‘what does it do actually in the body?’ and ‘how does it work?’ There are a lot of rumors about the vaccines. People were asking questions in social media about ‘will it implant a microchip in my body?’, ‘will it make me sterile or miscarriage?’, ‘will it alter my DNA?’ So we try to address those common misconceptions on the site, try to address just basic questions about whether or not people should get the vaccine if they're pregnant or breastfeeding. … This information is changing all the time and we're going to be updating the site continually.”
Is false data one of the driving factors in terms of how critical it’s been to translate information about the vaccine?
“There's so much misinformation on social media and especially within immigrant networks where people are getting misinformation — not just those circulating leading within the U.S., but even in their home countries.”
The Center you direct — UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center — received state funding to address anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander hate incidents as well as COVID-19. What role will those funds play for Translate COVID?
“The funds will be used for maintenance as well as expanding the resources on the site. We may do more videos and more FAQs. We'll also be updating the FAQs as news and new scientific discoveries come out. As the CDC may issue more guidelines, we keep up with the current information.”