Covid masks on a blue background

UD Extension plays critical role in COVID vaccine education in rural America

March 03, 2022 UD Cooperative Extension

Through an interagency agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Cooperative Extension units at Land-grant Universities across the nation received funding and launched the Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching and Engagement (EXCITE) in June 2021 to address health disparities among rural and other underserved communities. This effort is initially focused on vaccine education. 

The University of Delaware’s effort is led by Extension agent Sarah Goldring, who brings past experience working on health literacy education. 

“There are many barriers when it comes to providing educational about vaccines and decreasing vaccine hesitancy in Delaware,” said Goldring. “One barrier is language — making sure that educational resources are provided in a language that is culturally appropriate whether that means through text message, audio or online.”

In Delaware, Extension is working with Haitian leaders and state health entities to increase educational information and health materials available for Haitian communities throughout the state. 

To reach the Haitian community, which was hit particularly hard during the pandemic, Extension partnered with Love and Hope Rescue Mission, which helps Delawareans with daily needs, jobs, financial independence, housing and other issues. Vaccine education materials are distributed through in-person events, churches, vaccine clinics and one-on-one conversations, reaching over 1,000 individuals.

“During the pandemic, the Haitian community has dealt with a lack of understanding and resource, for example, with translation not being accurate,” said the organization’s founder Rose Simon.

Through the EXCITE project, Extension has worked with the State to address these issues and ensure that important resources are accurately translated and culturally appropriate. In addition to written materials, videos are being developed that feature health professionals, faith-based leaders, and community members sharing information about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and the Center’s Deputy Director for Science have expressed gratitude to the nation’s Cooperative Extension System, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, for addressing vaccine hesitancy by educating and raising awareness about the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19 in rural America.

“Rural America continues to be especially hard hit by the pandemic, and the lives of families and communities continue to feel the impacts,” said Carrie Castille, NIFA director. “Because our communities are faced with making important decisions about vaccinations, having a trusted, independent community agent to aid in decision making is essential. Cooperative Extension agents and educators are well placed to have that discussion and provide objective educational information. Talk with your Extension agent, and then decide.”

“Agents and educators are trusted messengers working in every county across the nation and are uniquely situated at local levels to engage with their communities and build partnerships to improve community health,” added Samuel F. Posner, acting director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a letter to the U.S. Cooperative Extension System. “As my team listens to our partners in the field, we hear story upon story of the need for one-on-one, honest discussions with trusted messengers to address concerns about COVID-19 vaccines.” 

The CDC recently published a COVID-19 Vaccination Field Guide Addendum: Rural Considerations for Vaccine Confidence and Uptake Strategies. This resource complements CDC’s 12 COVID-19 Vaccination Strategies for Your Community and content on How to Conduct a Rapid Community Assessment, both designed to support the work of communities across the U.S. to increase vaccine confidence and vaccine uptake.

“I know how hard field agents work, the long hours and distances traveled especially in rural and frontier areas, and how much you all care about the community members you serve. Thank you for all that you do!” Posner said.

The Cooperative Extension System is operated through the nation’s Land-grant University System in partnership with the federal and state and local governments. As the federal partner, NIFA develops methods to address national priorities, funds and awards grants, and provides program leadership. The agency supports both the universities and local Extension offices to bring science directly to the regional and county level.


About the National Institute of Food and Agriculture

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and Extension across the nation to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA supports initiatives that ensure the long-term viability of agriculture and applies an integrated approach to ensure that groundbreaking discoveries in agriculture-related sciences and technologies reach the people who can put them into practice. In FY2020, NIFA’s total investment was $1.95 billion.


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