Morehouse School of Medicine received a $1 million award from the National Institutes of Health for COVID-19 pandemic outreach and engagement efforts in ethnic and racial minority communities. Morehouse will form a statewide coalition as one of 12 support teams across the US that are established as part of the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities.

With these funds and the strengths of a national network designed to address mistrust, anxiety, and misinformation regarding both the pandemic and related vaccines, the CEAL research teams will create programs focused on COVID-19 awareness and education research, especially among African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians —populations that are disproportionately affected by the virus pandemic, accounting for over half of all reported cases in the United States.

These teams will promote and facilitate the inclusion and participation of these groups in vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials to prevent and treat the disease.

“We have the opportunity to advance community-engaged approaches to outreach, communication and vaccine trials during unprecedented times,” said Dr. Tabia Henry Akintobi, professor of Community Health and Preventive Medicine, an associate dean of Community Engagement and the Director of the Prevention Research Center at Morehouse School of Medicine. “The pace of misinformation and the potential for responsive vaccine trials must be met with the intentional and strategic engagement of Black and LatinX communities with social and medical vulnerabilities related to the pandemic. Community co-creation of culturally sensitive outreach, health communication, and science, from those who are trustworthy, are at the core of changing the path towards reduced hospitalization, sickness, and death from related to COVID-19.”

Morehouse and the eleven CEAL research teams will leverage established relationships between NIH-funded researchers and local community-engaged leaders to help reach underserved communities that might not be located near COVID-19 clinical research recruitment sites.

The Georgia CEAL team lead principal investigators are Akintobi, working with other community and campus principal investigators: Sedessie Spivey, Ed.D. (Dekalb County Board of Health), Dr. David Williams, MD / MPH (Southside Medical Center); and Robert Bednarczyk, Ph.D. / MPH (Emory University). Their collaborative teams will be guided by a Community Coalition Board designed to ensure that research and outreach processes and findings are translated with, co-created by, and relevant to communities.

(Photo: Courtesy of Morehouse School of Medicine)

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