Dr. Jennifer Dillaha has played a leading role in having low health literacy recognized as an important public health problem in Arkansas and integrated into the Arkansas Department of Health’s strategic plan.
Dillaha joined the ADH in 2001. She has served as state epidemiologist since March 2020, as medical director for immunizations since November 2013 and as medical director for outbreak response since September 2019. Dillaha was special adviser for strategic initiatives in the Office of the Director from 2010-13 and director of the Center for Health Advancement from 2005-10. In April 2013, she was named medical adviser for health literacy at the ADH. In January 2015, Dillaha began serving on the National Academy of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy.
Dillaha earned her medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she received specialty training in internal medicine and subspecialty training in infectious diseases and in geriatric medicine.
What have you learned from the pandemic that you never knew before?
I have read about the devastating impact of pandemics in the past. Now I have come to know and observe the terrible consequences of the current pandemic in a deeply personal way.
In addition, I have watched people struggle with the profound impact of the pandemic on their lives. I did not anticipate how difficult it would be for many people to grasp the scope of the pandemic and embrace public health strategies for mitigating the impact.
Public health officials in some states have been threatened. Have you?
No, I have not been threatened. In fact, my experience has been quite the opposite. Many people, including family, old friends and strangers, have reached out to me to offer support, encouragement and prayers.
Does the state have any costs associated with the COVID-19 vaccine distribution?
The ADH Immunization Program received supplemental COVID-19 CARES funding from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in September 2020 for vaccination planning and implementation. The total is $1.58 million, of which $61,000 must be used for the Vaccines for Children Program, $450,000 will be used for a vaccination media campaign, and the remaining $1 million will be used for vaccine supplies, storage, forms, extra help employees and training. This funding is available through July 5, 2021.
The ADH received another round of supplemental funding in the amount of $1.06 million from the CDC on Dec. 15. This funding is designed to directly support efforts outlined in Arkansas’ draft COVID-19 vaccination program plan. The supplemental funding will be used to plan for and implement COVID-19 vaccination services throughout the state by implementing COVID-19 mobile strike teams and supporting a COVID-19 call center. Remaining funds will be used to expand general and targeted vaccination media campaigns. This funding will be available through June 30, 2022.
The vaccine is supplied by [the federal Operation Warp Speed/CDC] at no cost to the agency. The vaccine is distributed directly from the vaccine manufacturer or through the CDC warehouse.
What should the public know about getting the vaccines?
The Food & Drug Administration and the CDC have very strict requirements regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines. The public should take steps to become well informed about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and do whatever is necessary to make an informed decision about whether or not to get vaccinated.