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HRSA grants $10.3 million to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates for three minority, low-income populations in Texas

Photo of Maria E. Fernandez, PhD.
Maria E. Fernandez, PhD, with UTHealth School of Public Health will lead the project. (Photo by UTHealth School of Public Health)

A one-year, $10.3 million dollar grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) was awarded to increase COVID-19 vaccinations through the development and mobilization of existing community-based health and outreach workforces in the state by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston).

The program prioritizes low-income and minority populations in three Texas regions: Houston and Harris County, Cameron and Hidalgo Counties in South Texas, and East Texas, with the goal of disseminating interventions and services to increase COVID-19 vaccination across Texas. According to research published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates among vulnerable/medically underserved populations are even more severe in Texas, particularly in the target regions, than the overall country. Case and fatality rates are also significantly higher in these areas than the rest of the country.

UTHealth Houston, including UTHealth School of Public Health, McGovern Medical School, and its clinical practice UT Physicians, will work with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler (UTHSCT) and a large group of academic, public health, health care, social service, and community partners to:

  • Mobilize and train community outreach workers and patient navigators,
  • Educate, motivate, and facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccination,
  • Expand available resources for vaccination in those communities with the greatest needs,
  • Build a long-term, sustainable model for addressing COVID-19-related disparities that can ultimately be repurposed for the prevention and control of other diseases.

The overall project lead, Maria E. Fernandez, PhD, Lorne Bain Distinguished Professor in Public Health and Medicine and professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health, is principal investigator and oversees activities in Houston and Harris County.

Belinda Reininger, DrPH, professor and dean of UTHealth School of Public Health’s Brownsville campus, is a principle investigator for the South Texas component.

Paul McGaha, DO, associate professor and chair of the Department of Community Health at UTHSCT, heads the East Texas part.

The leadership team also includes Marcia Otto, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology, human genetics and environmental sciences; and CiCi Baur, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics at UTHealth School of Public Health.

This new project leverages long-standing partnerships develop through the School of Public Health’s Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Research Center, and the UTHealth Houston Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences. The existing infrastructure, expertise, and data available through existing projects and through collaborations with state and local health departments, health care systems, and community partners will enable rapid and effective deployment of education and services to increase COVID-19 vaccination and protect the health of Texans.

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