POCATELLO — As COVID-19 vaccines are distributed across the country, a new research coalition involving Idaho State University researchers aims to strengthen the community’s role in an equitable vaccination campaign.

CommuniVax, launched by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is working to better include historically underserved populations in the response to COVID-19. ISU researchers Elizabeth Cartwright, Diana Schow and Tamra Bassett will lead the coalition’s efforts in rural Southeast Idaho. Their work will focus on vaccination among Hispanic populations.

"The Idaho team is really excited to share valuable perceptions about vaccinations from community members in Southeast Idaho, which will enable the national vaccine rollout to more effectively reach Hispanics," said Cartwright, Schow and Bassett.

The ISU group is one of five national, local teams performing rapid ethnographic research in their local communities. Other teams are located in Alabama, California and Maryland.

The Idaho team will also include an interdisciplinary cohort of student and community researchers who will conduct COVID-19-safe interviews and focus groups with residents of Bingham and Power counties. The team will work to develop suggestions about how to strengthen COVID-19 vaccine delivery and communication strategies.

These suggestions will be carried to Southeastern Idaho Public Health, which is a crucial project partner, for their consideration. The strong relationship between SIPH, ISU researchers and community members will allow the project to have lasting effects and increase trust surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, project members say.

“Community input is critical to all aspects of our operations,” said Maggie Mann, district director for SIPH. “The insights developed as a result of this collaborative project will help us to tailor vaccination efforts for a wide variety of populations.”

The U.S. coalition will synthesize and disseminate local community viewpoints to national stakeholders to develop a more equitable and effective vaccination effort.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color in the United States. Across the country, COVID-19 infection and mortality rates are highest in non-white groups, particularly Black, Indigenous and Hispanic populations.

The ISU project will be funded at $250,000 as part of the larger CommuniVax grant of $2 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. A key partner is the Association of Immunization Managers, which represents public health professionals working in the United States and territories to prevent and control vaccine-preventable deaths in their communities.

The ISU research team includes faculty and students from the College of Arts and Letters, the Kasiska Division of Health Sciences and the Institute of Rural Health.