It’s the Season….for Flu Shots. What should you, interpreters, do?


Written by Hayley Baccaire. Published on December 16, 2015.

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As medical interpreters, we have very limited control over the circumstances in which we work. Some days run smooth, timely and are fairly predictable. Other days, the patient’s health is failing, the decisions are quick and we do our best with the resources we have. Considering the latter scenario, it’s necessary for interpreters to examine what we bring to an appointment. Yes, interpreters bring linguistic knowledge, multi-cultural perspectives and flexibility. We also bring our sniffles, hand sanitizer and our hunch that we might be coming down with something. As flu season ramps up, let’s consider our impact on the communities we work with, the hospitals we work for, and our role in the big picture.

The CDC and the Joint Commission Recommends Flu Shots
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes “healthcare personnel” to include persons who are not directly involved with patient care but work in a healthcare setting, i.e. interpreters. The CDC also outlines one method of contracting the flu is being exposed to contaminated air, i.e. breathing. So, as breathing interpreters in healthcare settings, we are impacted by the guidance set forth by the CDC. The CDC recommends five strategies to prevent flu transmission, the first strategy being flu shots. It’s important that interpreters know the requirements of the facilities where we work. Many hospitals require all staff and contractors to have a flu shot or wear a mask to prevent transmission of the flu.

This expectation is also outlined in the Joint Commission’s standards for all accredited programs. The Joint Commission might pull out a file and it is for a Deaf Patient, the hospital is responsible to justify their procedure for that patient. Hospitals must verify the interpreter(s) who was present for the Deaf patients within 30 minutes, Partners Interpreting helps with that process by ensuring all of our interpreters are vaccinated. Hospitals also can be confident with any interpreters who are dispatched by Partners Interpreting because they are covered with liability insurance. Hospitals work incredibly hard to become accredited. It is in no one’s best interest to circumvent these expectations.

Immunocompromised Patients
As much as we try to be the best match for our consumers, we are not privy to the status of their immune system. Immunocompromised patients include babies in the NICU, people with AIDS, people receiving cancer treatments, and folks who have diseases of the immune system. When we respond to an assignment that is either acute or routine, we can’t anticipate the strength of the patient’s immune system. Since other providers operate under the auspices of the hospital, there may be an unspoken assumption that all healthcare workers, including the interpreter, have received the flu shot. By complying with the hospital flu shot requirements, we are able to better meet the needs of a varied patient population.

Masks and Visual Communication
Personal protective equipment serves a critical role and is surely needed to protect healthcare providers and patients. Some hospitals require face masks as an alternative to the flu shot. Interpreting sign language while wearing a face mask can be a challenge for the interpreter and the Deaf patient. The interpreter’s non-manual markers are obstructed, mouth movements are blocked and it gets plain hot and steamy speaking into the mask. In addition to these challenges, the Deaf patient may prefer to read the lips of the interpreter to access exact phrasing. When interpreters opt out of the flu shot and default to using the mask, patients and the interpreter need to modify their communication to access the message.

Partners Interpreting has a proactive office staff who works with hospitals to establish expectations prior to sending medical interpreters on-site. During these discussions, the hospital outlines their vaccination and flu shot requirements, and this information is relayed to the interpreters. Hospitals have done their due diligence to comply with state and federal guidelines, and Partners Interpreting supports their efforts by sending interpreters who are equally vetted and compliant. For more information on Partners Interpreting, please go to