UAMS Receives $1.4M Grant to Study COVID-19 Disparities


University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences researchers have been awarded a one-year, $1.4 million grant to study the causes behind COVID-19’s devastating impact on minorities and develop plans to help increase vaccination rates as part of a national alliance.

The grant comes from the National Institutes of Health’s Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities. UAMS’ team was one of 11 teams selected to join the alliance. 

The UAMS project is called “COVID-19 PREVENT (Partnership for Rapid Engagement to Enhance Vaccine uptake for Everyone: Neighbors Working Together) Project.” The researchers will leverage a network of partners representing more than 150 health clinics, community groups and faith-based organizations to complete the study. They will also survey Arkansans.

This announcement comes after Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and NIH officials visited northwest Arkansas last year to investigate COVID-19 disparities among Marshallese and Hispanic populations in northwest Arkansas. The CDC had identified the state as a national hot spot for those.

Black and rural communities across Arkansas were also struck hard by the pandemic.

“Aggressive steps are needed to protect Black/African American communities from COVID-19 because their life expectancy has declined by nearly three years since 2019. This is alarming,” UAMS Co-principal Investigator Pebbles Fagan said in a news release.

Fagan is a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco at the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health. She is also director of research for the Office of Health Initiatives & Disparities Research in the College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

The two other co-principal investigators are:

  • Dr. Laura James, director of the UAMS Translational Research Institute, associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational research, and a professor in the College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics; and

  • Pearl McElfish, director of the UAMS Office of Community Health & Research and associate director of community outreach and engagement at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. She is the outgoing vice chancellor for the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus as well, and leads the Special Populations Core for the Translational Research Institute.