UH Population Health Communicating Ongoing COVID-19 Risks Through 'We've Got Next' Initiative

 COVID-19 booster vaccinations are readily available … businesses have fully reopened … and masks are now optional in public. It might seem like we’re living in a post-pandemic world, but that’s far from the truth.

There is a misconception, particularly among adults between the ages of 18 and 45, that COVID-19 is over and precautionary measures are no longer relevant. The experts at UH Population Health, however, want to remind everyone that vigilance is key in staying safe, healthy and hopefully, COVID-free.

To support that goal UH Population Health has been awarded a Centers for Disease Control-funded grant by the Houston Health Department to launch “We’ve Got Next.” Targeted toward young adults of color within the 18 – 45 age bracket, this initiative will help inform Houstonians on the importance of remaining on guard against COVID-19 through vaccinations, testing, and other preventive methods. Likewise, maintaining one’s cardiovascular health is a key message delivered through “We’ve Got Next.”

“Studies have shown that people with poor cardiovascular health are more susceptible to COVID-19 and often face a number of challenges from the virus,” said UH Population Health Chief Officer Bettina Beech. “We want to make more Houstonians aware of these facts and provide them with some takeaways … whether it’s basic information or general strategies they can use in their everyday lives.”

Through “We’ve Got Next,” UH Population Health has been maintaining a steady presence at health fairs, vaccination clinics and other community-based events in the city. At these events, UH Population Health team members distribute informative literature and tools to support cardiovascular health. Items distributed at some of these events include oximeters that measure oxygen levels, blood pressure monitors and heart-shaped stress balls (aimed at increasing blood circulation and raising heart rates). Other materials available at these events include magnets and cards with information on monitoring blood pressure.

“One of our key messages is ‘self-management,’” said UH Population Health Research Associate Ankita Siddhanta. “By meeting community members at these events, speaking with them and offering some items they can take home and use, our goal is to promote awareness, as well as healthy lifestyles.”

Siddhanta and her teammates have taken “We’ve Got Next” on the road to various events including a vaccination clinic at UH’s Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine, the Gulfton Opportunity Center Health Fair and the University of Houston-Downtown Health Fair. Through these events, “We’ve Got Next” reached hundreds of Houstonians, she said.

Siddhanta, Beech and colleagues hope to connect with even more people through collaborations with community partners such as the Houston Health Department and consultations with stakeholder groups including a Millennial Advisory Council.

Although there is a steady production of vaccines and boosters, there is a distinct need for “We’ve Got Next,” Beech said.

 “The perception that the world has returned to normalcy is causing many young adults to let their guards down,” she said. “After periods of isolation, it is understandable that people want to get back to the pre-pandemic lives they enjoyed.”

Beech added that awareness is half the battle, particularly as the holidays approach. COVID spikes are expected following Thanksgiving and December celebrations due to family get-togethers and traveling in passenger-filled planes.

Beyond vaccinations and boosters, having the right information and using it wisely can make all the difference in the world when it comes to COVID-19, Beech added.

“The reality is that we can’t afford to be caught off guard by COVID-19,” she said. “It’s important to understand that we are living with this virus and we’re able to make decisions in our everyday lives that will help us either prevent the spread of this disease or recover from it more quickly.”