The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Foundation and the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute (HBRT) at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work have been awarded a $3.3 million, one-year grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to engage the nation’s more than 700,000 social workers in boosting COVID-19 vaccine confidence, uptake and access, particularly among populations with low vaccination rates and higher vulnerability to severe forms of infection.
“As an essential health care workforce, social workers are well positioned to help people in their decision making around their vaccination status and address any impediments to getting vaccinated, for themselves and for their family members,” said NASW President and NASW Foundation board member Mildred (Mit) Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW. “Whether they work in health care settings, schools, mental health clinics, child welfare agencies or out in the community, social workers are trusted professionals who are able to meet people where they are in their COVID-19 vaccination journey and help them navigate any personal, systemic or logical barriers to becoming fully vaccinated.”
As of this week, 63 percent of the total vaccine-eligible population are fully vaccinated, with much lower vaccination rates among certain populations. With the rampant spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again sharply rising, largely among unvaccinated people. With vaccines recently recommended for pregnant women and expected to be approved in the coming few months for children under age 12, and with booster shots expected to be available this fall, there is increasing vaccine availability, which will be instrumental in reversing the spikes in infection. Facilitating confidence in and uptake of the vaccines is still crucial, as is eliminating barriers to access.
Vaccine confidence is a complex construct that involves a variety of personal factors such as religious beliefs, political beliefs, perceptions of the government, perceptions of science, individual and/or community experiences with health providers and/or systems, language and/or literacy, and/or immigration/refugee status. As is seen in health and public health initiatives generally, there are also systemic and logistical factors such as transportation, childcare, and mis/disinformation. With their distinctive “person in the environment” framework, social workers possess highly relevant expertise in helping facilitate health decision making in this context.
The one-year project will include a comprehensive education campaign for social workers on COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness, barriers to vaccination (e.g., mis/disinformation, logistical challenges, psychological, etc.), and the role of social workers in promoting vaccination. The initiative will also include trainings for social workers on facts and myths about the vaccines as well as training in Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and other evidence-based, culturally competent, public health- and social work-informed methods for helping clients to process health-related decisions and choices. Through reflective listening and other strategies, versus traditional advice-giving approaches, these methods support and honor the client’s capacity and right to make choices about their health, while centering science-based and accurate information.
HBRT will collaborate with Michigan State University to develop a smartphone mobile application for social workers. The mobile app, which will supplement training, will support social workers by providing them readily accessible vaccine information, motivational interviewing strategies, screening questions and brief interventions, and effective vaccine messaging for real-time support. HBRT will also collaborate with NORC at the University of Chicago to assist in developing messaging and in evaluation efforts.
NASW’s 55 state/territorial chapters and specialty social work associations will also be engaged in the initiative.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.