We’ve recently written about the linguistic mutations we’ve seen during the global pandemic and the need to change global business strategy in the face of COVID-19.
But the translation field is soon to face another challenge: how to ensure a COVID-19 vaccine is shared between countries and populations that speak different languages.
In this article, we’ll dive into the difficulty and importance of creating accurate medical translations during the global pandemic and the hunt for a vaccine.
Public safety fears due to lack of translated COVID-19 advice
In June 2020, a public letter was written by campaigners to the health secretary criticising the “limited range of languages” COVID-19 guidance was translated into.
The government responded to the letter saying it had translated public health information to a ‘wide audience’, when in fact it only translated its guidance into 25 languages. There are approximately 6,500 languages spoken worldwide today, with many of those represented in Britain, so it seems campaigners were correct to say only a limited range of language translations were available.
They were also concerned about the time taken for new guidance to be translated when medical advice and government rules changed.
These fears still have resonance today, with government advice shifting regularly. Just look at the UK-wide changes in late September, which included pubs being forced to close by 10 pm every night and the new ‘rule of 6’.
Crucially, various local lockdown rules are being announced as the situation develops. Local restrictions in Bolton, Greater Manchester and Leicester were all updated in late September. See the latest local lockdown guidance and rules on Gov.uk.
The challenge of communicating news of a vaccine in the medical community
News has emerged that volunteers in the UK could be given the COVID-19 virus to test a vaccine developed in Britain. If these trials go ahead they will be the first human trials in the world to test a vaccine.
However, potential vaccines are being developed across the globe, and wherever a proven vaccine is developed, communication will be vital among medical communities to deliver the vaccine to as many people as possible.
Non-human vaccine trials have been in progress for months, with the global medical community pulling together in a way never seen before. Research findings are regularly being published for the global community to see and benefit from.
This is in part thanks to the technology we all have access to today. However, the real challenge will come when a vaccine is developed. This is when medical organisations and governments will need to come together to make translations widely available to a diverse public.
Translations of dosages and medical instructions will be crucial to ensure the vaccine is democratically spread around the world, particularly in countries with ‘niche’ languages and low literacy rates.
Translation will also be crucial to ensure the medical community can collaborate when performing medical trials, sharing information, and ratifying the feasibility of vaccines.
Working with global pharmaceutical company Novartis
At Bubbles, we’re highly experienced at providing complex translations in the medical field. Our medical translation services experience ensures we are fully aware of just how much care, consideration, and attention to detail is necessary when carrying out medical translations.
One such case was when we were tasked by Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, to provide translations for a high-level medical training course in Shanghai. They asked us to translate all their course material into simplified Chinese. This included presentations, course notes and exercises.
The medical organisation turned to us after a local Chinese translation agency dropped out at short notice. They informed Novartis that their reasoning was the complexity and variety of the course matter.
We were assigned this task with just one week’s notice, usually requiring three to four weeks for a project of this complexity. Our global set up allowed us to tackle this project with confidence. With an office in China, we created a working group of experienced and highly qualified professional translators to take on the job.
The result spawned translations that exceeded the expectations of Novartis, leading to Novartis commissioning us to translate material for further courses in China, the wider Far East, and Europe.
The value of experienced translators in medical translations
The medical profession is facing its largest translation challenge in history. The latest information (at the time of writing 7th October 2020) from the World Health Organisation reveals there are 35.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide.
When a viable vaccine is developed and produced or transported around the world, there will be many millions of people hoping for a cure. Without accurate translations, medical professionals, governments, and private individuals will have difficulty obtaining vaccines and following instructions on how to administer medicines.
We hope that the global medical community, governments and translators can come together to tackle this global challenge.