UTA, Tarrant County team up to reduce COVID-19 disparities

Multidisciplinary team to address health disparities in local communities that need it most

Thursday, Jan 20, 2022 • Devynn Case : Contact

From left, Julian Rodriguez, Karishma Chatterjee, Thomas Christie, Gabriela Wilson, Charla Markham Shaw, Chyng-Yang Jang and Grace Brannon" _languageinserted="true
From left, Julian Rodriguez, Karishma Chatterjee, Thomas Christie, Gabriela Wilson, Charla Markham Shaw, Chyng-Yang Jang and Grace Brannon.

A multidisciplinary team from The University of Texas at Arlington received a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH) to help Tarrant County residents better understand COVID-19 health information.

As part of a community initiative led by TCPH, the two-year project will address COVID-19-related health disparities and advance health equity by developing strategic, culturally sensitive messages that address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

Faculty and staff from the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, the Multi-Interprofessional Center for Health Informatics (MICHI) and the Department of Communication will create health literacy materials for targeted audiences in high-risk neighborhoods with a focus on Hispanic/Latinx residents, low-income households and those with unmet medical needs. The project is titled “COVID-19 Health Disparities: Creating Culturally Appropriate Messaging to Address Vaccine Hesitancy and Health Disparities in Hispanic/Latinx Tarrant County Communities.”

The team is led by principal investigator Gabriela Wilson, professor and MICHI co-director. Charla Markham Shaw, chair and associate professor in the Department of Communication, is co-principal investigator. Grace Brannon, Karishma Chatterjee, Thomas Christie, Chyng-yang Jang, and Julian Rodriguez—all from the Department of Communication—are co-investigators. Undergraduate and graduate research assistants from MICHI and the Department of Communication will also assist with aspects of the work.

Markham Shaw said the team will measure the impact of the messaging and adapt it to improve the health and safety of people in Tarrant County.

“We are excited about this grant and the potential to improve the health outcomes of thousands of people in Tarrant County and beyond,” she said. “Our collaboration with MICHI provides our communication team with information about at-risk Latino populations in Tarrant County. With this data we will be able to engage directly with residents to determine attitudes about vaccines, sources of health information and types of misinformation. This understanding will assist us in developing effective and culturally appropriate messaging that will be shared through Spanish-language media and with community partners dedicated to decreasing health disparities and increasing health literacy.”

High-risk neighborhoods are characterized by significant clustering of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income households and those with unmet medical needs, Wilson said. She believes this project has critical implications for vulnerable populations, such as the Latino community, which has the highest COVID-19 infection and death rates.

 “Building trust through targeted messaging and involving community partners with a strong emotional connection to the Hispanic population in Tarrant County is critical to adherence to public health measures, including vaccination,” Wilson said. “Through a multi-interprofessional approach, our team’s efforts will contribute to improved health literacy, vaccination rates and trust in decision-makers—especially in the Hispanic, Latino or Latinx populations.”

Tarrant County Commissioner Devan Allen said this project could yield important benefits for area residents.

“This partnership could not be more timely as recent U.S. census data reflects Tarrant County as a minority-majority county, with approximately 30% of our residents of Latino origin,” Allen said. “We’ve faced increasing challenges with the emergence of the pandemic in serving members of our community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and other urgent as well as long-term health issues. I look forward to seeing this collaboration implemented and to seeing the positive health outcomes of our residents.”