In-depth: Many non-English speakers in Tampa Bay area say getting info about vaccine is difficult

30% in state are non-English language speakers
Posted at 8:21 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 04:43:00-05

TAMPA, Fla. — With the COVID-19 vaccine now available, state and county health officials are trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible, but some non-English speakers say they aren’t getting enough information about the life-saving vaccine.

ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill spoke with people about their concerns and is digging deeper to uncover how information about the vaccine is being disseminated in different languages.

Florida is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the country. Right here in the Tampa Bay area, you could hear Spanish, Haitian Creole and Portuguese among many other languages.

In fact, about 30% of citizens of the state are speakers of a non-English language. That’s higher than the national average which is about 22%.

However, with the diversity in language, comes the complexity of communicating life-saving information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some speakers of other languages have complained about not receiving enough information about the vaccine and how to register for it.

“I think that there’s a lack of Spanish-speaking information,” said Joel Cruz of Largo. “I believe it's gotten better. Is it efficient for every person living in Florida? Not really. Again, there’s a lack of Spanish information out there or information in our languages.”

Isaret Jeffers from Colectivo Arbol, an organization that advocates for migrant and local farm workers in the Tampa Bay area, said her people desperately need more information about the life-saving vaccine.

She says the people she represents have not received information on how to get vaccinated, even though they are more at risk of contracting COVID-19 because they’re essential workers.

"Not everybody are illegal people, they are legal, too. They need information here in the fields for these people," she said.

She showed ABC Action News a letter her organization sent to Governor Ron DeSantis’ office in Tallahassee, asking for more support and access to information in Spanish about the vaccine for farmworkers. She said she still hasn’t heard back from the governor’s office.

One Hillsborough County Health official told me, they’re trying to reach more non-English speakers about the vaccine, but that it’s not an easy task.

“It is very challenging to reach every single body,” said Kevin Watler from the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.

He said the vaccine rollout is still in its early days and they’re still trying to get vaccine information out to as many people as possible.

“Everything is just not going to happen immediately. We will certainly expand as we go along,” said Watler.

He said one of the ways they’re trying to get more non-English speakers vaccinated is through their “targeted vaccine area” initiative. Where we will come to them and that’s exactly what we have been doing here in Hillsborough County.

ABC Action News found that the Florida Department of Health has a website dedicated solely to information about COVID-19 and the vaccine in both Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Dr. Kevin Sneed from USF Health said one of the ways they’re trying to reach out to Spanish speakers is by partnering with Latino clergy.

“We use them as kind of ambassadors to transmit and translate information back to the people that they’re serving,” said Dr. Sneed.

He says the state does provide literature in different languages about the vaccine, but that it’s not enough.

"So, again, much more needs to be done, but we’re in a rush against time and we need to identify as many people as possible so that we can go back and communicate this very effectively and evidence-based information back to the community in a language that they can understand," he said.

While the Tampa Bay area is still waiting for the next batch of vaccines, it’s suggested you register as soon as possible.

If you would like to speak with someone for more information about the vaccine with representatives who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole, here is the state’s COVID-19 hotline (866) 779-6121