Payne-Foster Part Of Effort To Increase Vaccinations In Rural Alabama

September 15, 2021

A faculty member from The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences is part of a project that partners UA researchers and community organizations to get 70% of eligible people in the state’s Black Belt vaccinated against COVID-19 during the next year.

A $1 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to UA will assist with vaccine information and outreach programs and support remote and pop-up vaccination clinics throughout the Black Belt’s 18 counties.

Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, professor of community medicine and population health in CCHS and a preventive medicine/public health physician, is part of the UA team that also includes: Dr. Hee Yun Lee, lead on the grant, associate dean for research in the UA School of Social Work and Endowed Academic Chair in Social Work (Health); Dr. Rebecca Allen, professor and interim chair of the UA Department of Psychology; Dr. JoAnn Oliver, professor of nursing; and Dr. Marcia Hay-McCutcheon, professor of communicative disorders.

“This is a very important and timely grant award in Alabama,” Lee said. “Alabama’s low vaccination rate is more serious in rural areas than urban areas, so our grant targets rural communities like the Black Belt areas to increase the vaccination rate.”

As the grant began in August, Alabama had the highest positivity rate of COVID-19 of any state coupled with the lowest vaccination rate in the country, with only about 34% of the population fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some counties in the Black Belt have more people fully vaccinated than the state, while some have a lower percentage.

Alabama’s Black Belt, originally named for its rich, dark soil, is a poverty-stricken area of the country, especially outside its small towns, with African Americans making up most of its population.

UA’s team will work alongside the Rural Alabama Prevention Center, a community-based organization in Eutaw, Alabama. The RAPC’s mission is to improve the overall health of people living in rural West Alabama through the provision of preventive health services, education and resources.

RAPC has deep connections in the Black Belt including with predominantly African American churches and other social service agencies to help with the rollout of the information campaign and vaccinations.

The grant project will connect community members with local clinics and pharmacies to create “Shot on the Spot” events while also using UA’s Hear Here mobile truck to take vaccines to more remote areas to eliminate access barriers. It will also strive to improve health literacy on the COVID-19 vaccine using a culturally competent social media campaign.

It is possible vaccinations could begin in early September, but helping people learn about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine will be important, Lee said.

“We will develop and conduct a tailored health literacy education campaign first to reduce the misinformation, vaccine hesitancy and mistrust toward the COVID-19 vaccine by working with community partners,” she said. “I believe that enhancing the vaccine literacy should come first and then we will go to the community to provide the vaccine.”