132: New Vaccine Equity Program

Geetika Nadkarni, ASTHO’s Director of Infectious Diseases, outlines a new initiative aimed at reducing disparities in vaccination rates among adult racial and ethnic minority groups and rural communities; the Community COVID Coalition adds more...

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Geetika Nadkarni, ASTHO’s Director of Infectious Diseases, outlines a new initiative aimed at reducing disparities in vaccination rates among adult racial and ethnic minority groups and rural communities; the Community COVID Coalition adds more social media resources to its portal for public health teams working to increase vaccine uptake among several unvaccinated populations; and Mei Kwong, Executive Director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, reflects on telehealth use over the course of the pandemic.

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, March 7th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


ASTHO and the National Community Action Partnership have announced a new national program aimed at reducing disparities in vaccination rates among adult racial and ethnic minority groups and rural communities. Geetika Nadkarni is director of infectious diseases at ASTHO. She outlines the initiative in today's morning conversation.

What's the goal of this project?


Our goal for this project is to increase vaccine acceptance and uptake among racial and ethnic minority populations and local communities. Right now, of course, we're focusing on vaccination for COVID-19 and influenza, but we are hoping that this project will build capacity longer term to support all adult immunizations.


Community action teams in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and California are the focus of the program. How did you choose these teams in these locations?


So, we first looked at the data to identify regions within the U.S. that are facing disparities in COVID-19 and influenza vaccination rates. We then worked with our consultant the National Community Action Partnership, or NCAP, to pinpoint agencies located in those regions that were already engaged in the community and were both prepared and willing to take on this work in addition to the services they're already providing in their communities.


What will these teams do, and how does ASTHO instend to support their work?


ASTHO, NCAP, and our other project partners will be working with these community agencies to support them in building community action teams and developing their action plans to select and tailor evidence-based strategies to reach these harder-to-reach populations in their communities. They'll also be learning from each other at the same time on what's working and what could be improved as they implement their action plan


For ASTHO's part in this project, what do you hope to learn from this initiative?


Well, one thing we hope to learn is how we can use evidence-based strategies for vaccine uptake to address the concerns and motivations of people with diverse backgrounds—you know, to understand where they're coming from and share credible information in culturally relevant ways to increase their acceptance of vaccines.

We're also hoping to learn how this public health community action model can be used beyond the response to COVID-19 to create lasting partnerships to benefit long-term health of people in the community.



New graphic and video elements have been added to a portal for public health teams working to vaccine uptake among several unvaccinated populations. The Community COVID Coalition is a project of the CDC Foundation in partnership with ASTHO and the Association of Immunization Managers.

The Coalition's social media campaign is wrapping up, but the free content remains available for download. You can find a webpage, the resources, and an interview with Coalition project director Julie Scofield using the links in the show notes.


Finally today, telehealth has been an important tool in the fight against COVID-19 the last two years. Flexible federal policies have allowed providers and clinicians to expand their use of the technology that Mei Kwong says wasn't as common before the pandemic.


Telehealth, before COVID-19, had been around for really decades as a way of providing services; but it was very limited because of the fact that it wasn't widespread, and that's partially due to policy barriers or reimbursement barriers that limited its use.


Kwong is executive director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, providing information and research to people and organizations with questions about the tool. She says telehealth is still popular, but not like it was at the start of the pandemic.


It's definitely dropped. It hasn't gone back to pre-pandemic levels, the lower levels of utilization, but it hasn't been at those high levels in those early months of the pandemic; if you look at data, for example, from Medicare, you can see that there's been a drop in use. But there's still been high use for it.


Listen to the full conversation with Mei Kwong in a new episode of the Public Health Review podcast, coming soon everywhere you stream audio.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Mei Kwong JD

Executive Director, Center for Connected Health Policy

Geetika Nadkarni MPH

Director, Infectious Disease Infrastructure and Policy, ASTHO