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Turning the Tide Before the Next Wave

Hispanic Pharmacy Student Association Receives National Grant to Fight Misinformation, Reverse Vaccine Hesitancy in Houston Area

Aug. 25 — With African-American and Hispanic communities bearing a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 deaths and economic hardship across the U.S. due to a variety of factors, increasing awareness of vaccination safety and benefits – as well as dispelling myths and misinformation about vaccines – is of tantamount importance for organizations committed to public health. 

According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission dashboard created as part of its "Impact of COVID-19 on Vulnerable Populations in Texas" report released in January 2021, Hispanic communities had the highest age-adjusted and total fatality rate per 100,000 from January to December 2020. 

Recent reports of polio detected in wastewater in New York City – following the sharpest decline in U.S. vaccination rates for polio during the pandemic's height in 2020-21 – may signal dire consequences of vaccine hesitancy, which have gained a greater audience due to misinformation and "antivax" propaganda that was spreading even before the pandemic.

In an effort to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the Hispanic Pharmacy Student Association (HPSA) at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy was selected to initiate a Houston-focused vaccine awareness campaign supported by a $5,000 grant from the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF) and the Rockefeller Foundation. Houston is one of three markets – along with Chicago and Oakland – specifically targeted in the NHHF/Rockefeller "Building Community through COVID-19 Vaccine Awareness and Equity" program.

An official chapter of the National Hispanic Pharmacists Association, HPSA will focus its efforts on hosting webinars and educational clinics, developing and disseminating educational materials in printed form and on social media, and coordinating in-person and virtual speaking engagements through new and previously established relationships with schools, community centers, social service organizations and other venues serving predominately Hispanic/Latino students or clients.

While COVID-19 immunizations are the focus of the program, the Houston campaign also will stress the importance of childhood vaccinations and seasonal flu vaccinations. As the Hispanic/Latino population is at higher risk of hypertension, diabetes and obesity, these chronic disease states also put these communities at increased risk for poor health outcomes or mortality associated with the flu or pneumonia. 

HPSA chapter leaders said additional outreach efforts will be conducted with health professional and pharmacy students to ensure that they are prepared to address any concerns raised by patients. This is especially important as the NHHF website cited a Kaiser Family Foundation survey indicating that 8 in 10 Black and/or Latino people prefer to get their information about COVID-19 from doctors and other healthcare professionals.

HPSA's faculty advisor, UHCOP Associate Professor of Pharmacology MariVi Tejada-Simon, Ph.D., MEd., said the project is a perfect fit for the organization's mission of serving Hispanic communities in the Houston and the Rio Grande Valley

"This year we will work even harder with community organizations in the area to educate on the facts and myths of vaccines," Tejada-Simon said. "Our overall goal is to address inequities in the Hispanic/LatinX community and increase vaccination uptake not only of the seasonal flu and Covid-19, but others. We also understand that mistrust issues often start with healthcare providers, thus HPSA is speaking about vaccine hesitance, racism, inequities and health disparities with the future generations of pharmacists."