Texas CEAL Consortium works to debunk COVID-19 misinformation

Dr. Jamboor VishwanathaThe University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) is participating in a virtual town hall titled: “United to Debunk Misinformation in Our Communities; A Town Hall on COVID-19.”

The webinar will be held on the Zoom platform on Jan. 14 at 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (CST). Register for the webinar here.

The Hon. Shelia Jackson-Lee, U.S. Rep. from Harris County, is the keynote speaker. Dr. Jamboor K. Vishwanatha, Regents Professor and Founding Director for the HSC Texas Center for Health Disparities, will welcome participants and Melanie Lawson of ABC-13 Houston will moderate.

“The town hall will highlight credible community leaders who can tell their stories and give their perspectives on the effects of COVID-19 in our communities,” said Dr. Vishwanatha. “Information will be shared by community leaders and health experts so individuals and communities can make the right decisions.”

The online event connects community leaders and health experts from across Texas; including Mia Wright, Co-Pastor of The Fountain of Praise Church in Houston; Venus Ginés, Dia de la Mujer Latina, Inc. founder; Dr. Monica Webb Hooper,  Deputy Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and Dr. Peter Hotez, PhD Baylor College of Medicine.

Experts said the town hall will help address misinformation about the virus and the vaccine.

For example, populations of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, yet the Black, Latino and Native American communities may be hesitant to get it, experts said. Past harm to Black communities by medical research injustices in historical cases like the Tuskegee Study created long-lasting distrust.

Today, systems are in place to protect people, from Institutional Review Board (IRB) regulations on research to the FDA protocols required before any vaccine ever reaches the market.

HSC is involved in efforts across Texas to reassure these communities that the COVID vaccines are safe and effective.

There are community engagement projects underway in Tarrant, Dallas, Harris, Bexar and Hidalgo counties. These Texas counties are among high-priority regions that receive special focus.

HSC administers the Texas portion of a $12 million National Institutes of Health award for outreach and engagement efforts in ethnic and racial minority communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The award to RTI International, a nonprofit research institution, supports teams in 11 states established as part of the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities, according to NIH.

The Texas CEAL Consortium is administered through HSC. Dr. Vishwanatha is the principal investigator for the CEAL.

Several HSC researchers are involved in the project, including HSC epidemiologist Erika Thompson, PhD, Dr. Erica Spears, Dr. Teresa Wagner, Dr. Usha Sambamoorthi and Dr. Emily Spence, who are focusing on populations in 12 Tarrant County zip codes of highest priority.

The United Way of Tarrant County, DFW Community Health Worker Association, Tarrant County Public Health and the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth are working with HSC faculty to design and implement the Tarrant County CEAL projects.

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