Researchers, local partners aim to reduce disparities in Covid vaccination, testing

New federal grants totaling $1.4 million are supporting a partnership between Brown, Progreso Latino, the Rhode Island Quality Institute and others to address barriers to testing and vaccination among high-risk populations.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] – With $1.4 million in new grant support from the National Institutes of Health, Brown University researchers and local community organizations are working to address barriers to COVID-19 testing and vaccination among the Latinx population as well as high-risk children in Rhode Island.

The project is designed to address disparities in access to health care in the U.S. brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers noted. Underserved communities, including Hispanic and Latinx populations, tend to have lower rates of vaccinations even in a state like Rhode Island, which has higher-than-average vaccination rates.

“As we are anticipating that vaccinations will soon be available and FDA-approved for children, this project is extremely timely,” said project leader Dr. Sharon Rounds, associate dean for clinical affairs at Brown and a professor of medicine. At the same time, testing remains an essential tool in addressing outbreaks, she said.

The projects have both launched and will be funded for up to two years.

The funds are part of an initiative aimed at reducing disparities in underserved populations, who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The overarching goal of the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) initiative is to understand and ameliorate factors that place a disproportionate burden of the pandemic on vulnerable populations, specifically by implementing programs that expand the scope and reach of COVID-19 testing interventions to reduce these disparities.

The new funding to Brown marks the second phase of a RADx-UP grant to the University in partnership with Progreso Latino, a nonprofit that serves Rhode Island’s Latinx and immigrant communities, and the Rhode Island Quality Institute, which collects and analyzes health care data from across the state.

The prior phase of the program focused on building a research infrastructure to understand testing hesitancy among Hispanic and Latinx communities in Rhode Island, said Neil Sarkar, a Brown faculty member who leads the Rhode Island Quality Institute. Researchers from Brown and its project partners identified areas in Rhode Island with insufficient COVID-19 testing and vaccination rates. To better understand attitudes about and barriers to testing, Progreso Latino helped the RADx-UP team recruit and train a corps of community health workers, or promotoras, to lead focus groups with community members and with providers at clinics that serve Hispanic and Latinx patients in Providence and beyond.

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