Dr. Debra Furr-Holden

Closing the racial gap in health outcomes and COVID-19 vaccination rates in Michigan as well as other states is the aim of Michigan State University researchers funded through a $6 million, one-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC grant is for the National Network to Innovate for COVID-19 and Adult Vaccine Equity, or NNICE project.

The NNICE project is led by epidemiologist Debra Furr-Holden, the associate dean for Public Health Integration within the College of Human Medicine. Furr-Holden was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as a founding member of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.

“African American adults are vaccinated at lower rates compared to other populations,” said Furr-Holden, who also serves as the director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.  “We want to better understand why and address the structural inequities that are driving these disparities.”

The project is a partnership between MSU, Michigan Public Health Institute, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and Community-Campus Partnerships for Health. The project also partners with organizations committed to reducing African American health disparities including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the National Medical Association.

"The goal of the grant is to boost COVID-19 and other adult vaccine literacy, confidence, access, and receipt,” Furr-Holden said. “We will implement innovative strategies with communities as equitable partners in the work and engage multiple sectors of society.”    

Creating effective media campaigns that address social determinants of health and vaccination will be key to reducing vaccine disparities while promoting vaccine equity.  

The NNICE team will focus their efforts on five geographic areas that were highly affected by COVID-19 and experience large African American adult vaccination disparities including Flint and West Michigan; Baltimore, Maryland; South Side Chicago, and Eastern North Carolina.  

“We will implement community-driven interventions that make a real difference in these communities and build an evidence base for innovative strategies moving forward,” Furr-Holden said. “People are getting sick and dying in the face of viable public health solutions. The time to act is now.”

August 11, 2021