LITTLE ROCK, Ark — According to Johns Hopkins data, Arkansas is one of only 8 states where the seven-day rolling averages of COVID cases is on the rise. Last year, the CDC identified Arkansas as a hotspot for COVID-19 disparities amongst some populations.
The situation was deemed so severe that CDC and National Institute for Health (NIH) officials visited Northwest Arkansas to investigate Marshallese and Hispanic groups.
Now, UAMS is one of 11 health teams selected to take part in a national effort to reduce the virus in the hardest-hit populations. They were given $1.4 million from NIH and Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) to help improve trust and vaccine uptake.
"From what's happened here in the state from over the last year. Some of our minority groups have really been hit the hardest," said Dr. Laura James who's overseeing the rural research network. She's co-leading the study.
"We also know that our minority groups are less likely to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. So, this project is really all about trying to understand that. What is the reason for the vaccine hesitancy."
She says in Northwest Arkansas, about 45% of hospitalizations were Hispanic. Yet, only 17% of Hispanics make up the population for the area.
19% hospitalized were Marshallese Pacific Islanders with their group only making up 2.4% of the population for that area.
African Americans and other rural communities across the state have been struck hard, too.
UAMS' team is working with over 200 groups, organizations, and faith-based leaders to assist with bridging the gap between groups and health professionals.
Hesitancy behind past relations with the medical field, distrust of medical professionals, information not reaching individuals, or misinformation being spread, their hope is that truth and trust can prevail.
"It's really what this project is all about and trying to figure out strategies and how we can do better as a state and as a nation," said James.