CCHS Part of National Effort to Strengthen Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout

February 3, 2021

Five faculty members from The University of Alabama, including one from UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, are part of a research coalition working to strengthen the community’s role and involvement in an equitable COVID-19 vaccine campaign.

Alabama is one of five sites of the CommuniVax initiative – a rapid ethnographic research project examining facilitators and barriers to vaccine uptake in historically underserved communities of color in the United States.

Local research teams will listen to community members and work with them to develop suggestions on how to strengthen COVID-19 vaccine delivery and communication strategies. The coalition will synthesize and disseminate community viewpoints to national stakeholders to develop a more equitable and effective vaccination effort, with an enduring impact on public trust.

The four other sites are: San Diego, California; Southeastern Idaho; Baltimore City, Maryland; and Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color in the United States. Across the country, COVID-19 infection and mortality rates are highest in non-white groups, particularly, Black, Indigenous and Latino/Latinx populations. The pandemic continues to exacerbate systemic factors that drive long standing health inequities among communities of color. This situation is compounded in states with substantial rural populations like Alabama, by issues of poverty, transportation and shrinking health-care infrastructure.

The forthcoming vaccination efforts can help mitigate COVID-19 transmission and burden, but hard-hit communities must have an active role in the vaccination campaign.

“All the researchers on our local team, and in the larger project, have a strong commitment to community partnership in health promotion,” said Dr. Stephanie McClure, assistant professor of anthropology and CommuniVax Alabama principal investigator. “We believe our efforts to identify the concerns that foster vaccine hesitancy and to engage communities as partners in encouraging vaccine uptake will help bring the current health crisis and its accompanying restrictions on our daily lives to an end more quickly.”

Along with McClure, UA researchers involved include Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, physician and professor of community medicine and population health at CCHS; Dr. Bronwen Lichtenstein, medical sociologist and professor of criminology and criminal justice; Dr. Kathryn Oths, professor emeritus of anthropology; and Dr. Levi Ross, associate professor of health sciences.

An initiative led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Texas State University Department of Anthropology, CommuniVax has received a $2 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to fund this research. The two leading institutions will work with the five local research teams, a national expert working group, and a network of national associations representing stakeholders on both sides of vaccination – system operators and beneficiaries.

“By understanding the concerns and desires of people of color and the constraints they experience, and by supporting them to take charge of their hometown’s vaccination responses, this project has the potential to increase vaccination rates and decrease the health, economic and social effects of the pandemic,” said Dr. Monica Schoch-Spana, medical anthropologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.