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University Health extends vaccine outreach to four-county region

San Antonio, Texas - University Health has been awarded a $1 million grant to extend COVID-19 vaccine education and access throughout a four-county region.

Protecting our Community: Educate.Navigate.Vaccinate. focuses on the region’s Hispanic residents who are not fully vaccinated as well as areas with low vaccine uptake, said Virginia Mika, deputy vice president for analytics and community programs with University Health.

“We are going to take a grassroots approach, go into the communities, and meet people where they are,” Mika said.

The one-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration will be used to hire advocates to do outreach in ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates in Bexar, Atascosa, Guadalupe and Wilson counties. University Health is partnering with the Atascosa Health Center and Seguin Family Health Center, and coordinating with San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

Hispanics nationally are lagging in getting their COVID vaccines and the same is true in South Texas, while COVID-19 has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities, Mika said. Hispanics make up more than 60% of the populations of Bexar and Atascosa counties, and almost 40% of Guadalupe and Wilson counties.

Outreach workers will go to community events, churches, restaurants, and places where people gather. There, they will share information and offer solutions to problems like access and transportation. People who have not already chosen to get vaccinated against COVID-19 may or may not be ready to listen, Mika said, but the outreach workers will be there to provide the information to help them make an informed decision.

“Real change happens slowly,” she said. “People have to think about it and understand the information and the impact it could have on them before they will change their minds.”

Once one person decides to get vaccinated, they often become an advocate within their families and encourage others.

Mika’s team is already doing analysis on low-vaccination ZIP codes, compiling frequently asked questions, planning targeted social media and advertising, working with community partners and neighboring counties and beginning the hiring process of 13 additional outreach workers from throughout the area.

“We’re not there to tell them they are wrong,” she said. “We’re there to give them information from a trusted source and address their concerns.”

The grant’s project director is Dr. Roberto Villarreal, senior vice president and chief analytics officer for University Health.

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