PRINCESS ANNE, MD- (August 25, 2021)-The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension System are banding together to bolster confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and to address health disparities among rural and other underserved communities.  The University of Maryland Eastern Shore Extension will champion this effort as the recipient of over $200,000 in grants to implement the Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching and Engagement initiative.

UMES Extension is among 72 land-grant universities to receive an EXCITE I grant ($26,000) for its “Building Trust and Vaccine Confidence through Collaboration and Communication Strategies in the Tri-county Area of the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland,” proposal.  In collaboration with Delaware State University, UMES is also among 24 recipients of a $200,000 EXCITE II grant for its proposal, “Assessing Vaccine Confidence among Delmar People of Color through Community Engagement.” 

UMES Extension will elicit the help of and work in collaboration with the UMES School of Pharmacy and other partners such as Atlantic General Hospital, Apple Drugs, area county health departments and many community-based organizations in Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico counties, said Dr. Virginie Zoumenou, director of UMES Extension’s Nutrition and Health Program.  Projects, she said, are aimed at “not only helping researchers and Extension professionals understand vaccination hesitancy, but also helping the community understand the value of being vaccinated.”

Maryland has one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S. (80%), yet Somerset County, in particular, is lagging behind with only three out of 10 people having been fully vaccinated.  According to an August 23, Maryland Department of Health update, in Somerset County out of 2,736 COVID 19 cases reported, 818 cases were located in Princess Anne ZIP code 21853. 

“It’s time to educate and help change attitudes.  Community engagement is the key.  We can no longer tell people what to do, everyone needs to understand why they need to take action.  It is up to each of us,” Zoumenou, said.  Timing is right, she said, given the potential boost of confidence that this week’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals age 16 and older from the Food and Drug Administration may create.

The 1890 Land-Grant Universities Foundation is the funding agency.

Gail Stephens, agricultural communications and media associate, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences,, 410-251-7009.

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