UT Extension Playing Critical Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Education in Rural Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and the Center’s Deputy Director for Science have expressed gratitude to the nation’s Cooperative Extension System, including University of Tennessee Extension, for addressing vaccine hesitancy by educating and raising awareness about the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19 in rural America.
“Rural America continues to be especially hard hit by the pandemic, and the lives of families and communities continue to feel the impacts,” said Director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Dr. Carrie Castille. “Because our communities are faced with making important decisions about vaccinations, having a trusted, independent community agent to aid in decision making is essential. Cooperative Extension agents and educators are well placed to have that discussion and provide objective educational information. Talk with your Extension agent, and then decide.”
Through an interagency agreement with the CDC and NIFA, Cooperative Extension units at land-grant universities across the nation received funding and launched the Cooperative Extension Immunization Teaching and Engagement (EXCITE) in June 2021 to address health disparities among rural and other underserved communities.
Acting director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Samuel F. Posner said in a letter to the U.S. Cooperative Extension System, “Agents and educators are trusted messengers working in every county across the nation and are uniquely situated at local levels to engage with their communities and build partnerships to improve community health.”
“As my team listens to our partners in the field, we hear story upon story of the need for one-on-one, honest discussions with trusted messengers to address concerns about COVID-19 vaccines,” said Posner.
UT Extension is proud to be one of the 24 Extension agencies across the nation addressing vaccine hesitancy issues. UT Extension’s EXCITE project team includes state and county-based Family and Consumer Sciences personnel, as well as nursing faculty from the UT Health Science Center. To ensure maximal local involvement, participating counties have recruited Community Advisory Boards and held community conversations to uncover the attitudes and concerns that underlie vaccine hesitancy in their locations. Girded with this knowledge and support, the team is developing tailored educational campaigns to encourage COVID-19 and other adult vaccine uptake that are community-inspired and motivational, fully informed by county-based advisory boards and focus groups.
“Tailored messaging in rural areas works,” said Posner. “As of today, over 76% of people in the United States have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. In rural areas, 71.4% of people ages 18 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – with the percentage of those reporting that they definitely will get vaccinated on the incline. Thank you to those who helped realize these achievements by getting vaccinated and helping others do the same.”
“To reach the remaining individuals who are hesitant about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, we are relying on trusted messengers to provide education about the vaccines, share information on how they were developed, and address myths about what’s in the vaccines,” he said. “There’s an enormous need to cut through the confusion that exists about why everyone should receive a vaccination, how to get a vaccine, where to get vaccinated, and what services are available to get them to the point of vaccination (if needed).”
The CDC recently published a COVID-19 Vaccination Field Guide Addendum: Rural Considerations for Vaccine Confidence and Uptake Strategies. This resource complements CDC’s 12 COVID-19 Vaccination Strategies for Your Community and content on How to Conduct a Rapid Community Assessment, both designed to support the work of communities across the U.S. to increase vaccine confidence and vaccine uptake.
“I know how hard field agents work, the long hours and distances traveled especially in rural and frontier areas, and how much you all care about the community members you serve. Thank you for all that you do!” Posner said.
The Cooperative Extension System is operated through the nation’s land-grant university system in partnership with the federal and state and local governments. As the federal partner, NIFA develops methods to address national priorities, funds and awards grants, and provides program leadership. The agency supports both the universities and local Extension offices to bring science directly to the regional and county level.
NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and Extension across the nation to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA supports initiatives that ensure the long-term viability of agriculture and applies an integrated approach to ensure that groundbreaking discoveries in agriculture-related sciences and technologies reach the people who can put them into practice. In FY2020, NIFA’s total investment was $1.95 billion.
Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.