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Georgia State looks to boost vaccine rate among refugees

June 26, 2021 GMT

CLARKSTON, Ga. (AP) — Researchers at Georgia State University will use a $500,000 grant to try to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among refugees and other groups in the Atlanta area city of Clarkston — one of the largest refugee resettlement communities in the U.S., the university announced.

The money from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help train and deploy six outreach workers to address residents’ concerns about coronavirus vaccines and encourage them to get jabbed. The workers will represent major refugee groups living in Clarkston, including the Burmese, Congolese, Afghan and Somali communities, as well as the African American community, the university said in a news release.

The school plans to use workers who are known and trusted in their respective communities and send them out within a month, Michael Eriksen, a public health professor at Georgia State who is leading the effort, said during a phone interview Wednesday. Thousands of refugees live in the Clarkston area.

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“We’re really pushing this as quickly and as hard as we can,” Eriksen said, citing the need for urgency because of the ongoing pandemic.

Vaccination rates in Georgia and elsewhere in the South have lagged behind the rest of the country. In some Clarkston neighborhoods, the percentage of people fully vaccinated as of June was below 30, according to researchers at Georgia State. That was lower than the state’s vaccination rate.

Eriksen said many refugees receive additional conspiracy theories and false information about vaccines from people in their home countries.

They may also be struggling to overcome traumatic events that brought them to the U.S. and face language and cultural barriers — all of which can hamper vaccine uptake.

The outreach workers will also help local clinics and the DeKalb County Board of Health schedule vaccine appointments, arrange transportation and follow up with residents to make sure they get a second dose. The goal is to increase vaccine rates in Clarkston by 50 percent by spring 2022.

The one-year grant was awarded to the Prevention Research Center located on the Clarkston campus of Perimeter College — a two-year school in the Georgia State system.