SURREY (NEWS 1130) — As soon as B.C. announced the age-based COVID-19 vaccination plan, a Sikh temple in Surrey knew they would have to find a way to help seniors in the community who don’t speak English get access to the shot.
Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib started offering help to Punjabi-speaking community members “from day one,” according to president Narinder Singh Walia.
“When they announced, then actually we realized in our community, the older people they don’t know English. They can’t just go book on the computer, laptop, or phone. So many older people live on their own too,” he explains.
“So, older people will have a problem.”
The Fraser Health website offers information about how to book a vaccine in many languages, but the online booking system is only available in English. Waits on the phone can be long, getting through can be difficult, and there’s no guarantee whoever picks up will speak a language other than English. Several Punjabi-speaking seniors told OMNI news that they have shown up to appointments only to be turned away because they inadvertently booked before they were eligible.
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Since they decided to spread the work on social media and through ads in Punjabi, Walia says three volunteers at the temple have been fielding hundreds of calls.
“Now, actually, it’s a very busy schedule,” he notes, saying they book anywhere from 30 to 50 appointments each day.
Many calls are from people who just want information about when they will be eligible, or where to get the vaccine, which the volunteers are happy to provide.
“We are ready. If we get more calls, we’ll get more volunteers.”
There are four numbers those who need help booking can call:
(604) 780 – 2573
(604) 537 – 1440
(604) 594 – 5100
(604) 783 – 6466
Walia says calls will be answered between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
“In our community people can call anytime,” he says.
“Actually we think it is our duty, to help people in this critical time. ”
‘Reach out to your neighbours’
On Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister acknowledged the critical role community-based efforts have played in making sure seniors who do not speak English can get immunized.
“I encourage groups in the community to reach out to your neighbours, we know there’s a lot of that going on,” Henry said.
“I know there are many, many groups in the community are reaching out to help her seniors and I would encourage people to continue that.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said although health authorities are trying to offer multilingual options, there is still a gap community has stepped in to fill.
“I’ll ask us to support one another,” he said.
“If you know the senior who need who might need your support provide that support.”
With files from Prabhjot Kahlon