LSU AgCenter receives grant to improve vaccination rates
BATON ROUGE - The LSU AgCenter intends to play a role in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 and the organization now has more money to support its efforts.
In a Thursday news release, the AgCenter announced that it became the recipient of a $24,178 grant to fund its Extension COVID Immunization Training and Education (EXCITE) program from May 1, 2021, to April 30, 2022.
The program is designed to work with medically underserved minority populations in Caddo Parish.
Abigail McAlister, AgCenter agent and Northwest Region family and consumer science coordinator, will serve as principal investigator for the grant.
“Our goal is to reach these communities through faith-based organizations, specific ZIP codes and in partnership with other organizations,” McAlister said.
Sharing the grant responsibilities with McAlister are Caddo Parish nutrition agents Grace Peterson and Elizabeth Martin.
Partners in the project are LSU Health Shreveport, We Grow Together! Coalition, Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana, Caddo Parish Head Start and the Caddo Parish Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.
“The 71107 ZIP code was identified by the Louisiana Department of Health as a Caddo Parish ZIP code that is of concern in regard to vaccination rates,” McAlister said.
LSU says that an online survey was sent to existing clientele and partners who work with minority and medically underserved populations.
Questions were asked regarding barriers, attitudes and beliefs about the vaccine as well as ways to reach more vulnerable communities in the area.
“Fear of safety, fear of the unknown, concerns of a reaction or death from the vaccine, historical concerns such as the Tuskegee experiment, misinformation, distrust and lack of access were identified as barriers and reasons for hesitancy,” McAlister said.
According to survey results from the Louisiana Public Health Institute, the main reasons for the community's seeming hesitancy to be vaccinated is traced back to concerns about the vaccine's side effects, safety, and efficacy.
“There are numerous existing efforts from other organizations to promote increased vaccination rates in this community, including mass vaccination drives, door-to-door visits with flyers, phone calls, billboards and physician interviews on local news channels,” McAlister said. “The difference in this proposed intervention is that we plan to use a ‘train the trainer’ approach, training local community members who are influential with their peers.”
Some of the influential community members are leaders of faith-based organizations, barbers, local business owners and managers of places where people in neighborhoods frequent.
“Once we educate these influential community leaders, they will then educate their peers in their communities,” she said.
Trainers will receive a participant stipend for their service to their communities. Printed publications and a social media campaign are additional approaches planned for this project.
Click here for more information on the program.