CDC grant expands COVID-19 vaccination to doctor’s offices, targeting hard-to-reach populations

May 18, 2021

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is working to support expansion of COVID-19 vaccination to primary care clinics in areas with low vaccination rates, thanks to a grant from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The work comes as the pace of vaccination in North Carolina has slowed and the state and federal government expand efforts to target hard-to-reach populations.

More than 7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in North Carolina, mostly at mass vaccination sites, hospitals, health departments and even inside cars. In the next vaccination phase, more shots are expected to be given at doctor’s offices.

The UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), supported by a $500,000 grant, will provide 18 primary care clinics — located in areas where vaccination is lowest — with the coaching, data and community partnerships needed to get more people vaccinated, especially Black and Latino patients.

Dr. Melissa Gilkey

Dr. Melissa Gilkey

“Primary care doctors and nurses are among the most trusted professionals in the U.S. That’s where most of us prefer to get our vaccines and vaccine information,” said Melissa Gilkey, PhD, the scientific lead of the project, who is a behavioral scientist in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior and a fellow at HPDP.

Dr. Alice Ammerman

Dr. Alice Ammerman

Alice Ammerman, DrPH, the Mildred Kaufman Distinguished Professor of nutrition at the Gillings School, directs the HPDP. It’s one of 26 CDC Prevention Research Centers across the country that is receiving support to increase equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Ammerman will lead the center’s involvement, sharing best practices and insights with other research teams.

“Prevention Research Centers, with their long-term community partners and focus on engagement, are well-positioned to make progress toward increasing vaccine confidence and uptake,” she said.

The work starts with an analysis of state data to identify areas in North Carolina with low vaccination rates and demographic gaps in vaccinations. Researchers also will analyze data from a statewide survey of barriers to getting vaccines at primary care clinics.

The goal is to increase the likelihood that patients receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — and there are multiple strategies clinics can try. For example, providers can set reminders to talk to patients about COVID-19 vaccination and offer evening and weekend clinics to make it easier for people to schedule a shot.

The results will be tracked for three months, but researchers will spend a year eliciting community-driven ideas on ways to improve COVID-19 vaccination.

Dr. Alexandra Lightfoot

Dr. Alexandra Lightfoot

Dr. Noel Brewer

Dr. Noel Brewer

Dr. Paul Delamater

Dr. Paul Delamater

Joining the project will be Paul Delamater, PhD, a geographer who specializes in geospatial analysis of vaccine uptake and refusal; Noel Brewer, PhD, an internationally recognized expert in vaccine decision making and communication; and Alexandra Lightfoot, EdD, an behavior specialist and expert in community engagement.

The team of UNC experts in behavioral science, vaccine delivery and community engagement will conduct the project in partnership with the N.C. Division of Public Health, the N.C. Area Health Education Centers and the PRIME Collective, a group of community experts that partners with investigators to engage communities in research.


Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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