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A series of 25 editorials and papers exploring community-engaged research during the COVID-19 pandemic are featured in a special supplement of the American Journal of Public Health published today in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL).
The supplement, Leveraging the Power of Communities, covers a range of topics, including an exploration of how to create effective community needs assessments and surveys to inform local COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Other articles focus on how to develop and test locally and culturally relevant community engagement approaches, achieve sustained uptake of proven interventions and examine strategies for building and sustaining community trust.
“[CEAL] is an NIH-wide program established early during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mission of CEAL then and now is to provide trustworthy, science-based information through meaningful community engagement and bidirectional outreach to people who have been the hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Dr. George Mensah, Director of the Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, one of the CEAL Co-leads and a guest editor for the supplement. “With the end of the public health emergency, we can now take the lessons learned from the COVID era and use meaningful community engagement, community participatory research, and dissemination and implementation research approaches to make sure that all individuals can live fulfilling lives to their best potential in thriving communities.”
One key issue addressed in the supplement is vaccine hesitancy. Vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been crucial to preventing infection, reducing hospitalizations and deaths and limiting the public health impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, efforts to enhance vaccination uptake across populations are hindered by vaccine hesitancy, where individuals delay or refuse the use of vaccines, despite their availability and efficacy. Sairam Parthasarathy, M.D., Professor, University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, part of UArizona Health Sciences, and a member of NIH CEAL, and his colleagues studied the changes in vaccine willingness in Arizona between July 2021 and April 2022.
According to Dr. Parthasarathy, “We found that while reports of adverse events increased hesitancy toward the J&J vaccine, they had no significant impact on willingness to receive other COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna.” The researchers also found that willingness to get the J&J vaccine was consistently lower in minority groups, than in non-Hispanic Whites. Notably, Arizona residents waited five months or more to get their COVID-19 vaccinations after hearing initial reports of adverse events—suggesting delays in delivering messages about the safety and availability of other COVID-19 vaccines. These findings highlight the importance of rapid, accessible and culturally appropriate communication of scientific information.
Other studies explore:
- How expanding and enhancing organizational capacity impacted community members’ engagement with COVID-19 protective behaviors.
- How NIH built a consultative resource that will continue to provide targeted consultations to NIH-funded researchers to combat health disparities and promote inclusive participation.
- Barriers and opportunities to engage African American community members in clinical research.
- A more equitable and accessible data reporting model.
NIH launched CEAL as part of the nation’s federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2023, CEAL expanded to support community-engaged research in additional areas, including maternal health, climate health, health knowledge and primary care. CEAL’s mission is to promote health equity, improve health outcomes and strengthen community partnerships to address health disparities.
This issue was funded by NIH CEAL under contract number OT2HL158287. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by the NIH, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or the U.S. Government.
The special AJPH supplement, Leveraging the Power of Communities is available online.
To request a full copy of a study or for information on scheduling interviews, contact APHA Media Relations.
The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence policy to improve the public's health. Learn more at www.apha.org.