Texas medical students are stepping up in their communities across the state to help boost vaccination rates and combat vaccine hesitancy amid a statewide immunization crisis that predates the COVID-19 pandemic.
Texas Medical Association Medical Student Section chapters received four of 10 Local Impact Grants of up to $3,500 disbursed by the TMA Foundation (TMAF) so far this year to fund vaccination events. Among the successful proposals are a back-to-school childhood vaccination event in Spring, a COVID vaccine clinic aimed at underserved and non-English speaking communities in San Antonio, and a human papilloma virus vaccine series in Lubbock.
TMAF Grants Committee Co-Chair Carla Ortique, MD, says TMA student chapters submitted some of the strongest applications. “Medical students and residents are really great advocates for working in their communities, especially in underserved areas where there is poor vaccine uptake,” she added.
The chapter at the University of North Texas Health Science Center-Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) in Fort Worth received a $3,500 grant to host a series of flu shot clinics at two Tarrant County apartment complexes with a high portion of refugee residents.
The goal is to distribute educational pamphlets in addition to flu shots in hopes that participants encourage others in their community to get vaccinated and continue to engage in preventive care themselves.
“We can’t really do anything about people who are just adamantly against vaccines,” the TCOM chapter vice president, Angela Liu, said. “But we can provide information about why it would benefit them in the long run and emphasize that we’re trying to time their immune system to the threat – whether flu or COVID – so they don’t end up with severe symptoms or hospitalized.”
The TCOM students hosted a similar series last year, exhausting their supply of 250 shots due to high demand. “Last year even though the pandemic was at its peak … we were really glad to see a really good showing at the vaccine clinic,” Ms. Liu said.
The Local Impact Grant program is a component of TMA’s Vaccines Defend What Matters campaign, which was developed in response to the pandemic as well as worsening childhood immunization rates.
The percentage of Texas K-12 students with at least one conscientious exemption on file nearly tripled over the past decade, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (tma.tips/VaxExemptions).
More recently, stay-at-home orders and other pandemic regulations interrupted regular well-child checks and curtailed childhood immunization rates by as much as 58%, according to a recent study by researchers from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health (tma.tips/TAMUChildVaxRates).
As a result, TMAF prioritized applications that targeted communities with low vaccination rates and high conscientious objection rates as well as those that included an educational component or outreach to combat vaccine hesitancy.
For more information, visit www.texmed.org/VDWM.