A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Build Back Better


As vaccine disparities persist, two projects try to reach the most vulnerable.

With $1.4 million in new grant support from the NIH, Brown University researchers and local community organizations are working to address barriers to COVID-19 testing and vaccination among the Latinx population as well as high-risk children in Rhode Island.

The NIH initiative is designed to address disparities in health care, which the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the fore. Underserved communities, including Hispanic and Latinx populations, tend to have lower rates of vaccination even in Rhode Island, where overall rates are higher than the US average. The funding was announced shortly before the FDA approved vaccines for children.

“This project is extremely timely,” says program director Sharon Rounds, MD, associate dean for clinical affairs and a professor of medicine. At the same time, testing remains an essential tool in addressing outbreaks, she says.

The grant is part of an initiative aimed at reducing disparities in underserved populations, who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The overarching goal of the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) initiative is to understand and improve the factors that place a disproportionate burden on vulnerable groups.

The new funding marks the second phase of RADx-UP in partnership with Progreso Latino, a nonprofit that serves Rhode Island’s Latinx and immigrant communities, and the Rhode Island Quality Institute, which collects and analyzes health care data from across the state (see Medicine@Brown, Spring 2021). The first phase focused on building research infrastructure to understand testing hesitancy among Hispanic and Latinx communities in Rhode Island, says Neil Sarkar, PhD, MLIS, an associate professor of medical science who also leads RIQI. This new phase has two aims: expanding the scope of work with Progreso

Latino to understand barriers to vaccinations and testing, including access and hesitancy; and increasing the study population to include high-risk children—those who live in medically underserved communities or have special health care needs. Both projects will be funded for up to two years.

“COVID is the latest example of the disparities in our health system, but it wasn’t the first and won’t be the last,” Sarkar says. “Our hope is that research infrastructure and partnerships with the community organizations developed through this project will help us make progress in other clinical domains.”


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