CDC awards UT institute grant for COVID-19 vaccine education

Hope Unger, News Reporter

An institute within UT’s Steve Hicks School of Social Work received a $3.3 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund a one-year COVID-19 vaccine education campaign. 

UT’s Health Behavior Research and Training Institute at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work partnered with the National Association of Social Workers and the CDC for the campaign. The organizations plan to educate over 700,000 social workers across the nation on COVID-19 vaccine confidence, uptake and access. The campaign will include webinars, social media, print media, in-person training and a mobile app.

“There’s this term called ‘vaccine messengers,’ (which are) those people who are trusted, who can convince and motivate other people to get vaccinated,” campaign program manager Diana Ling said. “I think that social workers are the perfect vehicle for that … (because) social workers are pretty much in every environment you can think of.”

The program will train social workers to have informed and respectful conversations about the vaccine, while they assist people with any personal or systemic barriers to becoming fully vaccinated, according to a press release sent by Ling to The Daily Texan. 

“The pandemic is one of the most important public health issues we face right now,” Ling said. “And as a mother of two children who are too young to be vaccinated, this project is one that I personally want to see through just to get as many people vaccinated as we can.”

Mary M. Velasquez, director of the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, said the institute has a long-standing relationship with the CDC and the National Association of Social Workers. 

“The three of us worked together on a lot of the initiative to disseminate information on behavioral interventions to the social work workforce,” said Velasquez, the grant’s principal investigator. 

The initiative includes a comprehensive education campaign for social workers on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, the spread of misinformation and other barriers that keep people from getting the vaccine and the role of social workers in promoting the vaccine. 

Elyssa Ruffin, a social work and youth and community studies sophomore, said the campaign is in line with the duties of a social worker. Ruffin said this initiative will help more people get access to the vaccine.

“A huge part, if not all (of) social work is about … advocating for what’s right,” Ruffin said. “More people need to know about what’s going on with the vaccine …  that it’s important to get the vaccine and that it’s safe and we all should get the vaccine.”