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Former state leader questions delay in launch of Spanish COVID-19 site in Arizona

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Posted at 10:54 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 00:54:03-05

Arizona's Department of Health Services launched a Spanish-language vaccine registration portal Tuesday, but a former state leader said that should've happened long ago.

People can now long on to the portal and choose to see it in Spanish from a drop-down menu on the top right of the page. Users can create an account, lookup appointments and get some general information on the vaccine.

"It was shocking to realize it wasn't available in other languages," said Dr. Wendy Smith-Reeve, Arizona's former director of emergency management.

Smith- Reeve said it's typical when agencies hire a company to make a website, that the contract includes translating the content into other languages.

"It's really important when you're putting information out and you're looking for engagement from the community, that you meet them where they're at."

She said the state should've launched at least the Spanish version immediately. But other language translations should also be options. Smith-Reeve pointed to the Maricopa County website, which has a widget that allows users to pick from dozens of languages in a drop-down menu.

"If they needed a couple of extra days, ok. But we've seen time and again how this portal to sign up is very difficult to maneuvers. Trying to maneuver in a language that's not your native language is next to impossible," said Smith-Reeve.

Smith-Reeve said it's also important to have interpreters at vaccination sites or clinics as the locations expand across the Valley.

Since the start of the pandemic, minority communities have been hit the hardest, and many in low-income areas have had a tough time getting access to information, testing and now vaccines. In fact, the Maricopa County dashboard shows wealthier zip codes have been vaccinated at higher rates.

Dr. Cara Christ Friday said the state is trying to reach the Hispanic population and is working to bring micro pods to areas with low vaccine rates.

"That is our goal to get into those communities, especially as we move into Phase 1B will have essential frontline workers and will expand to more of the general population," said Dr. Christ in a news conference Friday.

The Spanish portal is supposed to be a step toward that goal, but Smith-Reeve said that needed to be done from the get-go.

"Getting in front of it early and thinking through all of those challenges and making sure you have all of those boxes check and that you're going to be able to reach the broadest portion of our community. That should've happened and that's a misstep. A definite failure."

ABC15 reached out to ADHS to ask why the Spanish portal took so long to launch. We also asked to see the contract for the website. As of Monday evening, we had not heard back.