KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

How Freelance On-site U.S. Medical Interpreters are Getting COVID-19 Vaccines

It’s been a long, difficult road, and for on-site medical interpreters who are freelancers or independent contractors, the path towards getting a COVID-19 vaccine is often unclear. I’m here to tell you that it is possible to get vaccinated under phase 1a as a healthcare worker if you’re an on-site freelance medical interpreter. I know it’s possible because I just got my first dose on Wednesday, and I’m hearing from other freelance on-site medical interpreters that they too have been able to get vaccinated.

But how? I’ve listed, in order of how effective other freelance on-site medical interpreters have found them, the ways in which you can pursue the COVID-19 vaccine. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: I put endless hours into sending e-mails, waiting on hold, researching, and chatting with other interpreters until honestly I feel like the vaccine kind of fell into my lap. I was lucky. But these are tried-and-true methods other interpreters have not only tried, but have worked.

Location-Specific Vaccination Efforts

Stop! If you’re located in any of these localities, you can check out these options in your area! Please let me know if there are any vaccination clinics or programs in your area that are vaccinating freelance on-site medical interpreters!

Consider reaching out to counties and cities nearby if you’re not having any luck with your locality. I elaborate on this in “3. Reach Out to Your Local Health Department.”

Tip: Many interpreters are successfully getting their vaccines via this route by presenting their certification information. I recommend bringing ALL relevant information, including any badges, and the ATA letter mentioned in “2. Contact Your Interpreting Agencies” below.

Ralphs (pharmacy) has vaccinations available in certain localities for HCWs. You can find their scheduling system here and their list of localities (updated regularly with detailed info) here. As of 1/24 it’s looking like Alaska, some of California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Chicago (Illinois), Kentucky, South Carolina, Washington State, and Wisconsin have availability through Ralphs.

1. Get Vaccinated by a Facility You Interpret At

Over 55% of the on-site freelance medical interpreters who responded to my poll on U.S. Medical Interpreters were able to get their vaccines through a facility that they interpret at. This includes freelancers who contract with agencies in which the agency encouraged them to get vaccinated through the hospital.

Hospitals are generally more likely to have the infrastructure in place to have ongoing vaccinations taking place. I was offered the vaccine by a clinic I regularly interpret at and have a great working relationship with, but chances are you’re going to have to work your way up through the grapevine to find someone who can help you. Don’t count on someone approaching you, you have to advocate for yourself.

Be aware that this might land you in hot water with your interpreting agency or agencies. It’s usually frowned upon to communicate with a facility you interpret for outside of the context of interpreting encounters. If you decide to take this step, be sure to take into account both the risks and the benefits of this option.

2. Contact Your Interpreting Agencies

Nearly 30% of the contractors who responded to my informal poll said they were vaccinated through an agency they contract with. Contact all of the agencies you interpret for as a freelance on-site medical interpreter, and I mean all of them. Even if you work for 20, contact them all. It gives you a better chance at success! Here’s what I recommend including in an e-mail:

  • Explanation that as an on-site medical interpreter, you qualify to receive your vaccination under phase 1A
  • A copy of the letter written to the CDC by the ATA (American Translators Association) and signed by over 20 other organizations such as the CCHI and NBCMI, urging them to classify on-site medical interpreters as HCP (healthcare personnel) eligible for phase 1
    • The ATA wrote a second letter on January 22, 2021 that re-emphasizes and clarifies key points in the original letter.

If you find an agency is particularly financially motivated, it may benefit you to mention that some health systems in the United States will soon be requiring any contractors who work within their facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19. I have heard this from a few interpreters whose agencies worked diligently to get them vaccinated for this reason. Not vaccinating you or their other contractors may cost them money.

3. Reach Out to Your Local Health Department

Not all health departments are created equal. In my experience here in my city, it was like pulling teeth to try and get them to even understand that I wasn’t an employee, but rather an independent contractor. I was repeatedly told that only my employer could register me for the vaccine, to which I responded I was self-employed. Nonetheless, about 7% of the on-site freelance medical interpreters who answered my informal poll were able to get vaccinated through their local health department. (Since the writing of this original article, based on what I’ve heard from other interpreters, I imagine this percentage is much higher).

Not only is every state different, but every county and city is handling the logistics of vaccine distribution/administration differently. If you find that you’re not making any progress with your county, city, or town’s health department, consider reaching out to multiple nearby counties, cities, or towns.

A few of the folks who responded mentioned that they had previously interpreted for their local health departments, which is ultimately how and why they were contacted. E-mail and/or call, being sure to include the two bullet points I mentioned in “2. Contact Your Interpreting Agencies.”

4. Get In Touch With Your Insurance Company

This wasn’t a particularly successful route, but some folks were able to get their vaccines this way. I highly recommend including the information mentioned in the bullet points under “2. Contact Your Interpreting Agencies” if at all possible.

I was given a tip that Kaiser Permanente has been a huge ally to us medical contractors when it comes to getting the vaccine, whether you’re a member or not. I was given this tip by an interpreter out of Southern California, who said when they called Kaiser, even though they were not a member, they were able to get assigned a temporary MRN (medical record number) and get vaccinated that way.

When you call, do not do what they say and go to their website for COVID-19 vaccination information. It only lists general information there and nothing about how to actually get the vaccine if you’re in phase 1A. Also, when they tell you to call an 855 number for their COVID-19 hotline, don’t. It’s just a pre-recorded message that they update periodically and doesn’t tell you how to get the vaccine if you’re in phase 1A.

Unfortunately when I called Kaiser Permanente mid-Atlantic (which covers Virginia, Maryland, and DC) they informed me that they are putting all non-members seeking the vaccine (even if they’re in phase 1A) on a waiting list. It couldn’t hurt to be on that list, and it may still work for you if you’re in any other region than their mid-Atlantic region.

5. Get in Touch with Your Primary Care Physician

A lone respondent selected this as the route by which they were able to get the vaccine. This is one method I was planning on trying right before I got the message saying I was going to get vaccinated. I have a good relationship with my doctor and he is very knowledgeable, but again, the path forward for independent contractors getting the vaccine is very unclear, so who knows if he would have been able to help.

6. Reach Out to Local Safety Net Clinics

This was never an option on the original poll I conducted in January, but I’m hearing from more and more freelance on-site medical interpreters that if all else fails, they’re turning to local safety net clinics. If you’re not familiar with safety net clinics (including free, sliding-scale, and charitable clinics), they’re clinics that provide care to individuals regardless of their ability to pay, and often serve marginalized communities (i.e. rural communities, racial and ethnic minorities, undocumented individuals). At the end of the day, if you are working in high-risk healthcare environments day in and day out, getting the vaccine may very well save your life or at the very least make it less likely that you will develop complications from contracting COVID-19. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.

We may not know yet if getting vaccinated can decrease your viral load and likelihood of passing COVID along to others if you do get infected while vaccinated, but health experts remain guardedly optimistic. In my mind, even if there is a slight chance that I could protect the Hispanic community I serve, it’s a no-brainer for me, especially considering the high rate of COVID-19 mortality in marginalized communities. Some interpreters have expressed guilt about going through this route, but it’s important that when making this decision, you take into account all factors, including the likelihood of becoming an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. What toll would that take on the community you interpret for? Ultimately, we are in a high risk category that needs to not only take into account our risk of contracting the virus, but also of spreading it.

How I Got the Vaccine

After engaging in most of the suggestions on this list (and wasting a LOT of time communicating with my local health department) I suddenly had both an interpreting agency I contract with and a facility I regularly interpret at offer me the vaccine. I had another agency early on say they were looking into it, but I never heard back from them. I had my first dose on Wednesday, January 13, and my next dose is scheduled for February.

It never gets old… I always feel giddy whenever CCHI shares something of mine! Look how happy I am!
Credit: CCHI Instagram

I have a phobia of needles, but the nurse practitioner student who gave me the shot did an excellent job and I didn’t even feel it. My arm was sore the next day, but today it’s almost back to normal. I felt a little fatigued, but there’s no knowing if it was the vaccine or not with how hectic my schedule is!

Post cover image by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

How Did You Get the Vaccine?

If you’re an on-site freelance medical interpreter (independent contractor) who has gotten the vaccine, I want to hear from you! How did you get it? Did I not mention something here that I should have? Did you try out something I suggested and it worked? I’d like to update this article as I have more information as I get it. Be sure to comment below or contact me.

Please note that I will be updating this article as I get more information. You can keep track of changes in the following ways:

  1. Leave a comment on this article and check the box “subscribe to comments.” While this will notify you of all comments, I will also be commenting with detailed summaries of updates.
  2. Follow me on Twitter for update summaries.
  3. Follow my Facebook Page where I will be posting the exact same detailed summaries of updates I post here in the comments.

About the author

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

Kelly is a Certified Medical/Healthcare Interpreter (CMI-Spanish, CHI-Spanish) and a medical interpreter trainer. She work as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical and mental health interpreter. Her passions include affirming interpretation for sexual and gender diverse populations, supporting interpreter mental health, and interpreting developmental-behavioral pediatrics.


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  • Update on January 16, 2021:
    – Updated Salt Lake County link to indicate it links to Salt Lake County Health Department website
    – Included more detailed Kaiser Permanente instructions
    – Included Southern California in “Location-Specific Vaccination Efforts” and pointed to Kaiser Permanente info
    – Added Santa Clara County, California COVID-19 Vaccine Information for the Public

  • Update on January 24, 2021:
    – Added general tips to location-specific vaccination efforts (what information to bring)
    – Added an incredibly helpful tip to reach out to adjacent localities (nearby cities and counties) in both “Location-Specific Vaccination Efforts” and “3. Reach Out to Your Local Health Department.”
    – Added Massachusetts vaccination information
    – Added Washington state Dept. of Health information
    – Added Indiana Dept. of Health information
    – Added info for the following counties: Los Angeles county, Orange County, Riverside County, Ventura County (full)
    – Added Ralph’s pharmacy info

KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

I am a Certified Medical/Healthcare Interpreter (CMI-Spanish, CHI-Spanish) and a medical interpreter trainer. I work as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical interpreter. Click here to read more about me.

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