Vaccines have been discussed more than ever in the last year, and New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service wants to help inform and educate communities across the state on the topic.
NMSU Extension representatives are applying for funding through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote COVID-19 vaccine education through relevant messaging and innovative models for community action. This immunization education project is called Extension Collaborative Immunization Training and Engagement or EXCITE, and if accepted, one year of funding would begin in April.
“This system-wide engagement with the CDC’s Vaccinate with Confidence communication campaign will allow CDC and the Cooperative Extension Service to address health disparities among rural and other underserved communities by facilitating discussions at the community level to address barriers and concerns about COVID-19,” said Sonja Koukel, professor and Extension Health Specialist at NMSU.
Koukel said the program is designed to help increase connections and communication between the community and health care practices. “It will also increase accessibility and acceptability of local vaccination clinics and opportunities, with the goal to mobilize communities to implement public health programs to reduce health disparities, especially in rural areas.”
NMSU’s team includes members from areas such as 4-H Youth Development, Family and Consumer Sciences, agricultural industry personnel and producers, and Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition that provides nutrition education to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-eligible audiences in the state. NMSU and the New Mexico Department of Health will collaborate in effective messaging and connecting with targeted audiences, as well as other activities as they are recognized.
Koukel said in addition to promoting the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations through applicable messages and inventive models, goals for the project in New Mexico include adapting CDC materials to aid in matching content with the intended audience and building a communication program aimed at preventing disparities and ensuring equitable access to the vaccine. A long-term goal is to create an immunization education program for the state.
Target areas for communication efforts include rural and hard-to-reach audiences, including people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and those in medically underserved audiences, including urban areas.
“The New Mexico team will consider noncitizen immigrants as they face a variety of potential barriers to obtaining the vaccine,” Koukel said. “It is recognized that targeted efforts to reach this population as part of vaccination efforts will be central for preventing disparities in vaccination.”
Koukel said she believes an obstacle for the project could be aligning the education delivery with vaccine availability. President Joe Biden announced in a March 11 address that he projects all Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine by May 1. Additional challenges for the project could be communication barriers and informing the public about federal government resources available to provide the vaccine at no cost to people who are uninsured, regardless of immigration status.