West Virginia University Extension Service and West Virginia State University Extension Service have received nearly $250,000 to enhance vaccine education and immunization outreach to West Virginians.
The award was presented by the Extension Foundation, in cooperation with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, through an Interagency Agreement with the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address health disparities among rural and other underserved communities across the U.S. The Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching & Engagement initiative is a result of the recent announcement from the CDC to provide $9.95 million funding to the USDA-NIFA to support an innovative approach to community education and partnerships to advance adult immunization.
WVU Extension Service and West Virginia State University will partner to develop a robust vaccine and immunization community education and outreach program for the state’s residents, including a strong focus on multigenerational families and other vulnerable populations. Faculty and staff from WVU Extension Service and West Virginia State University Extension Service have partnered to create the “Don’t Wait, Vaccinate!” initiative to provide information on immunizations, including education and awareness around the COVID-19 vaccines.
“As trusted experts in our communities, Extension plays a critical role in not only the COVID-19 vaccinations, but immunizations in general. We also know there is a lot of misinformation out there that has created a fear of vaccines,” Stephanie Lusk, WVU Extension Service Agent and principal investigator of the grant, said. “Our goal is to ensure residents have factual, science-based information. The partnership with West Virginia State University will allow us to use our resources, including our faculty and other experts, to develop programs, research and other activities to help residents make these important decisions for themselves and their families.”
The team reviewed data from all 55 counties, including areas with greater health disparities and minority populations, and will use the grant funding to focus their education and outreach efforts on four counties: Clay, Kanawha, McDowell and Mercer. West Virginia University will be leading program implementation in McDowell and Mercer counties, while West Virginia State University will lead programming in Clay and Kanawha counties. The initiative will connect local community organizations, local health departments, health care leaders and others in these communities to work collaboratively on this project.
“Given West Virginia’s high prevalence of grandparents providing full-time care to their grandchildren, we are focusing our educational efforts on a multigenerational audience of adolescents through senior citizens with our established network of Healthy Grandfamilies program participants,” said West Virginia State University Extension Service Director Ami Smith, who noted that West Virginia ranks second nationally in grandparent-led households. WVSU launched Healthy Grandfamilies in 2016 to provide education, resources and support to grandparents raising their grandchildren. The program currently has cohorts operating in all 55 counties. “By partnering with WVU Extension Service, our joint efforts will have an even greater impact on the people of West Virginia.”
The NIFA EXCITE program supports land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension system in delivering immunization education to the communities they serve to improve vaccine confidence. Extension also will work with local partners, including healthcare providers, to make COVID-19 and other adult vaccines more accessible for rural, medically under-served and other harder-to-reach communities.
“As we continue to address public health issues facing our state, nation and world, it is critical that we work collaboratively to bring education and outreach to West Virginia communities,” WVU Extension Service Dean Jorge Atiles said. “We are fortunate to have two universities in West Virginia that provide extraordinary Extension programming, and they are doing phenomenal work. This award will not only further our efforts on vaccination education, but it also will solidify our new partnership with West Virginia State University Extension.”
WVU Extension Service has been actively engaged in providing education and outreach regarding the COVID-19 pandemic during the past year. WVU Jackson’s Mill served as a regional vaccination site for the local health department. Faculty and staff from WVU Extension Service participated on the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccines, and our county agents and staff volunteered their time at vaccination sites, hosted youth vaccine education events and staffed other outreach activities.