A University of Miami Miller School of Medicine team will lead a statewide collaborative outreach program to engage ethnic and racial minority communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are privileged to lead a coalition that will address one of our state’s most pressing public health concerns,” said the project’s principal investigator, Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and public health sciences and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine. “Disparities in COVID-19 infections are a concern, as African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans account for more than half of all reported cases in the United States. We want to counteract misinformation about COVID-19, understand barriers to care, and promote minority participation in vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials.”
Dr. Carrasquillo is a principal investigator for the Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities, or Florida CEAL Team. This collaborative initiative includes researchers at Florida International University, the University of Florida, Florida A&M University, Moffitt Cancer Center and Health Choice Network.
The new statewide coalition will receive funding of $1 million from a $12 million National Institutes of Health award that expands community outreach and engagement efforts already under way by NIH COVID-19 trial networks in 11 states. CEAL is an NIH-wide effort led by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“Addressing health disparities affecting racial and ethnic minority populations has long been a priority for NIH,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “The burden of the COVID-19 pandemic borne by diverse communities, especially those that include Blacks and Latinos, makes clear the urgent need for treatments and vaccines that are effective for all Americans. Inclusive research that reflects the entire population is essential to this goal.”
Other UM investigators on the Florida CEAL Team are Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., vice provost for research, associate director for population science and cancer disparities at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and program director of the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI); and Victoria Behar-Zusman, Ph.D., professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, principal investigator of the Center for Latino Health Research Opportunities, and member of the Miami CTSI Institutional Executive Committee.
UM researchers and their Florida CEAL Team partners will work closely with trusted community organizations to determine the level of awareness and understanding of COVID-19 in Florida’s minority communities, as well as the barriers to participation in research studies.
Researchers attribute elevated COVID-19 prevalence and mortality rates in underserved communities to structural inequalities and social determinants of health. The statewide CEAL initiative — comprised of several projects led by regional partners — is aimed at devising strategies to counteract misinformation about COVID-19, understanding and overcoming barriers to care, and promoting minority participation in vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials.
“Using that information, we will develop community-based outreach activities aimed at promoting evidence-based COVID health promotion practices and participation in clinical trials,” said Dr. Carrasquillo. “We will also implement and evaluate the impact of strategies that increase the enrollment of minorities into COVID vaccine and therapeutic trials.”