eXtension Foundation

UConn Extension is Strengthening Immunization Excitement Through USDA-NIFA, CDC Grant Funding

blue square with text vaccine resourcesUConn Extension received funding to strengthen immunization excitement in Connecticut through a grant funded project by USDA-NIFA, the Extension Foundation, and the CDC. The UConn project focuses on residents in Windham, Middletown, East Hartford, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and Groton.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided $9.95 million in funding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to support an innovative approach to community education and partnerships to advance adult immunization. This is the two agencies’ first concentrated vaccine education effort.

NIFA will use this funding, provided in an interagency agreement, to support Land-grant Universities and the Cooperative Extension System in delivering immunization education to the communities they serve to improve vaccine confidence. Extension will also work with local partners, including healthcare providers, to make COVID-19 and other adult vaccines more accessible for rural, medically under-served and other harder-to-reach communities.

Our secondary cities continue to be underserved in statewide public health initiatives, and COVID immunization levels in Connecticut align with this trend. While our state is relatively successful in our initial immunization efforts, pockets of underserved audiences exist at the first level of vaccination.

From informal qualitative data from a stakeholder in our target audience, the UConn Extension team is well positioned to identify key community influencers and work to address barriers to vaccinations in communities.

Our goal is to strengthen excitement for immunization in our five secondary cities in Connecticut. We are working with stakeholders to understand the barriers, identify key community influencers, create target social media and print media to increase vaccine awareness, efficacy, and safety and willingness to obtain vaccination. 

“Cooperative Extension educators are recognized and trusted messengers in their communities and can help deliver fact-based information on the COVID-19 vaccine and other adult vaccines,” said Dr. Jay Butler, CDC’s Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases. “We know vaccination rates overall are lagging in rural communities, and Extension agents can play an important role in building COVID-19 vaccine confidence and increasing vaccine access within the communities they serve.”

“Cooperative Extension has a century of experience as change agents and educators in communities across America,” said NIFA director Dr. Carrie Castille. “NIFA is proud to be the federal partner with such a trusted educational resource, but especially in this effort to deliver science-based vaccine education. This new partnership with CDC is a natural fit for the Extension System to do what they do best – provide balanced, reliable information so people can make informed decisions.”

“Vaccinations are a critical step in fully re-opening our nation. This partnership between USDA and CDC is an important part of our National Strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and getting Americans fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Sara Bleich, USDA senior advisor for COVID. “The President has directed us to make it easier for those living in rural communities to access vaccines by sending vaccines to rural health clinics, increasing vaccine education and outreach efforts in rural communities with resources from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and increasing funding for rural health clinics and hospitals to respond to the pandemic with testing and mitigation measures.”

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and Extension across the nation to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA supports initiatives that ensure the long-term viability of agriculture and applies an integrated approach to ensure that groundbreaking discoveries in agriculture-related sciences and technologies reach the people who can put them into practice. In FY2020, NIFA’s total investment was $1.95 billion.

UConn Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. 

Extension Team Developing Game to Help Consumers Understand Food Labels

man shopping in a grocery store aisle
(Stock photo via Anthony Albright, Flickr/Creative Commons)

The eXtension Foundation selected a team from UConn Extension in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources for the New Technologies in Agricultural Extension catalyst program. Team members are working with wrap-around services from eXtension to develop an interactive learning experience for consumers on navigating food labels in grocery store aisles.

Conflicting information causes 80% of consumers surveyed to be confused and doubt their food choices (International Food Information Council Foundation, 2018). Food labels often confuse consumers. There are different types of labels; those required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), those administered by organizations, and optional labels from manufacturers and distributors. Non-FDA labels cause the most confusion.

Label components required by FDA include: the product name; the total amount in the package; the nutrition facts; a list of ingredients and any allergen statements; and the manufacturer or distributor information (ESHA Research, 2019). Non-GMO, natural, and organic are examples of labels administered by other organizations that can confuse consumers.

Game design will provide consumers with a shopping list and they will browse the store for products and earn points while playing that lead to badge levels. Choices within the game dictate the products participants see. The game will be available in English and Spanish.

The expected release date for Navigating the Grocery Store: Understanding Food Labels is August 2021. Extension professionals nationwide will have access to the game. Team members are: Joseph Bonelli, Cristina Connolly, Jennifer Cushman, Sharon Gray, Michael Puglisi, Robert Ricard, Stacey Stearns, and Cindy Tian. The educators represent the Extension, Animal Science, Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Nutritional Sciences departments in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Contact Stacey.Stearns@uconn.edu for more information.