UA launches $1 million vaccine outreach program in West Alabama, opens Carrollton location

Maria Grenyo, Contributing Writer

With 36% of Alabamians fully vaccinated against COVID-19, The University of Alabama launched a project to aim for a 70% vaccination rate in Alabama’s Black Belt by the end of the year.

The federal Health Resources and Services Administration granted $1 million to the University to fund this vaccination outreach program and pop-up clinics across 18 counties. 

Dr. Hee Yun Lee, lead on the grant and associate dean for research in the UA School of Social Work, said the University has a duty to educate people about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“I believe that some people in rural areas may not be aware of the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Lee said. “They may have misinformation about it. I think it is our role to educate about the pros and cons of receiving the vaccine. Health literacy education via social media and town hall meetings will increase the receipt of the vaccine in rural areas.”

The program will connect people to clinics and pharmacies for “Shot on the Spot” events. The University’s Hear Here mobile truck will also take vaccines to rural areas.

The UA team will work alongside the Rural Alabama Prevention Center, whose goal is to improve the health of people in rural West Alabama by providing preventive health services, education and resources.

“I think The University of Alabama has a responsibility to enhance the vaccine literacy, reduce vaccine hesitancy and provide correct information about the vaccine, which will eventually promote vaccinations,” Lee said.

In addition to vaccinations, the program will focus on improving health literacy about the vaccine through a social media campaign. 

“Using social media, direct education by community health workers at churches and community health events and town hall meetings with health care providers will increase vaccine literacy that will hopefully be related to increasing the vaccine receipt,” Lee said.

The University Medical Center also recently opened a location in Carrollton, Alabama, to provide health care to rural Pickens County. The clinic will offer family medicine, sports medicine, obstetrics care, colonoscopy consults and upper endoscopies.

Dr. Richard Friend, dean of the University’s College of Community Health Sciences, said the decision was necessitated by the closure of the hospital there in early 2020 followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Friend said increased health care services in rural communities are important. 

“Carrollton is not unlike other rural communities in Alabama, which suffer from a lack of health care services and providers, and that struggle with hospital closures,” Friend said. “Our mission at UMC is to help improve the health of individuals and communities in rural Alabama, and expanding access to care in Carrollton, particularly primary health care, is one way we are meeting that mission.”