story by Homma Rafi
Director of Communications, School of Public Health
ATLANTA — The Prevention Research Center (PRC) at Georgia State University has received a one-year, $500,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify behaviors and solutions to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence and uptake in the African American and refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) community in Clarkston, Ga.
Clarkston, in DeKalb County, is one of the largest refugee resettlement communities in the country, with thousands of refugees having resettled there and in surrounding communities over the past two decades.
The project aims to train and deploy “community navigators” representing the various cultural groups living in Clarkston, including the Burmese, Congolese, Afghan, Somali, Middle East and African American communities. The navigators will use a peer-to-peer, in-person approach with residents by conducting listening sessions to hear and address questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our goal is to support the transmission of trust, rather than the COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Michael Eriksen, Regents’ Professor in the School of Public Health and principal investigator of the project.
Established on Perimeter College’s Clarkston Campus in 2019, the PRC identifies and addresses the social determinants of health in Clarkston’s RIM community to help reduce long-standing disparities driven by social and economic inequalities that lead to lack of access to healthcare.
Socioeconomic disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic are evident in Clarkston’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), a CDC/ATSDR database that uses U.S. Census data to determine the social vulnerability of a community after hazardous events, such as a natural disaster or disease outbreak.
“There is a stark contrast in vulnerability between Clarkston and other communities in DeKalb County with regard to social vulnerability,” said Dr. Richard Rothenberg, Regents’ Professor in the School of Public Health and an infectious disease expert who calculated the city of Clarkston’s SVI.
“Clarkston stands out as a community at risk socioeconomically, as well as for issues of housing, transportation and language barriers. Because the age distribution in Clarkston is weighted toward younger people, largely the result of a younger immigrant population, the vulnerabilities that result from an older population are less accented,” said Rothenberg, a co-investigator of the project. “In sum, Clarkston has considerable overall social vulnerability, and significant efforts will be required to alter the existing disparities.”
The Georgia Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Dashboard reports that 40 percent of DeKalb County’s population has been fully vaccinated. The PRC’s goal is to reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccine uptake in Clarkston by 50 percent by spring 2022. The PRC team will collaborate with community partners to facilitate “pop-up” vaccine registration events focused on disseminating culturally and linguistically appropriate educational materials adapted into five languages. The community navigators will also provide on-site technical support in local clinics and the DeKalb County Board of Health to schedule vaccine appointments, arrange transportation to and from the distribution site and follow up with residents to ensure fulfillment of both doses.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the PRC, representing researchers from the School of Public Health, Perimeter College and the College of Education and Human Development, has created partnerships with nonprofit organizations and the DeKalb County Board of Health to increase COVID-19 testing accessibility in Clarkston and help the RIM community navigate critical healthcare services and support. The team has introduced an online portal of COVID-19 resources with the Adult Literacy Research Center, health education videos in world languages, initiated research to study the health outcomes of the public health crisis, distributed vital health kits to more than 6,000 households in Clarkston and established a collaboration with the city to help curb the spread of the disease.
The CDC grant was awarded to the 26 Prevention Research Centers in the Connecting Behavioral Science to COVID-19 Vaccine Demand (CBS-CVD) network.