Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  March 2021  >  March 11, 2021  >  Grant to promote COVID-19 vaccinations among racial minority populations
Grant to promote COVID-19 vaccinations among racial minority populations

Twenty years of building credibility in Omaha’s minority communities is paying off for Creighton University’s HS-MACA and the Center for Promoting Health and Health Equity (CPHHE). To promote COVID-19 vaccinations, the Douglas County Health Department awarded a second $250,000 grant to the center, which is a community-academic partnership.

The grant will support CPHHE education and training of Community Health Ambassadors/Advocates (CHAs) to help enhance vaccination rates among Black, Latinx, Maya, and Urban Native Americans. Overcoming vaccination distrust remains a major challenge due to trust issues over the speedy development of the vaccines and a history of research abuses involving racial minorities.

Kosoko-LasakiSade Kosoko-Lasaki, MD, MSPH, professor in the Creighton University School of Medicine and director of Creighton’s Health Sciences-Multicultural and Community Affairs Department (HS-MACA), says that effective CHA education and training last fall, with the first $250,000 grant, was a key basis for the second grant award.

The first grant, pre-vaccine, Kosoko-Lasaki says, was used to guide CHAs in how to promote COVID-19 preventive measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. The subsequent decline in COVID-positivity rates in the minority population was encouraging, she says. Similar behavior encouragement will accompany the new grant’s vaccination focus. Also, virtual “town hall” meetings will supplement education, training and information dissemination, sponsored by churches, the Omaha Housing Authority, social agencies and other institutions of influence in minority communities.

These gatherings, hosted by Kosoko-Lasaki and project co-leaders, with CHA input, will inform participants about vaccine safety and effectiveness, urging participants to schedule a shot.

“The message needs to be very clear that they (community members) can be confident that this is not an experimental thing,” Kosoko-Lasaki says. “Our Community Health Advocates are well placed to do this. We are the only body in Omaha with such a large group of trained individuals who live in these communities, who have built trust in these communities and who can go back and say to them, ‘This time, you can trust the system.’”

A major concern, she says, is the low supply of vaccines. Vaccine centers are set up in minority communities, but more are needed. Although CPHHE’s advocacy teams are ready to work, Kosoko-Lasaki says the lack of vaccine doses could reduce their effectiveness. She re-emphasized the formidable task of persuading minorities — especially Black Omahans — that they should lay aside suspicions born of historical experience.

“People do not forget the past,” Kosoko-Lasaki says. “We have noticed that lots of minorities do not get the flu vaccine. So, if they are not taking the flu vaccine that has been around for so long, why would they take the COVID vaccine? The problem is deeper than the vaccine. As the national literature documents, this pervasive disparity goes back to the roots of discrimination, of institutional and structural racism. We need to address that problem.”

This historical trauma, Kosoko-Lasaki says, emerging from centuries of abuse and punctuated by atrocities such as the United States Public Health Service Tuskegee Syphilis Study and use of Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells, has generated profound distrust in the health care system that deters people of color from seeking treatment, confiding in their providers and complying with health care recommendations.

Given minority communities’ reasonable distrust, based in past abuses, Kosoko-Lasaki says she has no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead. But, she says, she brings certain advantages to the situation.

“First, I am a black woman, and, second, I have surrounded myself with individuals who have earned each other’s trust over the years,” she says. “And I am not alone. Many of our community partners are people of color.”

Education, she says, is the key.

“I believe in education,” she says. “When people are educated, then they can reason on solid foundations and come to their own conclusions. That is the process of education. Some people assume communities with disadvantage will not understand. No, such presumptions are racist. They will understand. If you explain, they will understand.”

Kosoko-Lasaki says the first grant addressing COVID-19 prevention was successful because CPHHE is an effective community-academic partnership with a solid history of addressing health disparities within Omaha minority communities and collaborating with the Douglas County Health Department.

She and John Stone, MD, PhD, professor emeritus (bioethics, medicine) co-founded CPHHE and continue co-directing the center. She says she cannot stress enough that success in any project rests on many years of building trust with communities and demonstrating that CPHHE, and the Creighton University it represents, are primarily concerned with community welfare.

She also emphasized that CPHHE projects are developed with and for community partners, including Doris Lassiter, former CPHHE chair, and Richard Brown, PhD, current CPHHE chair.

Other Creighton faculty members will join with Kosoko-Lasaki and Stone in the COVID-19 vaccination program. These include Ivelisse Santiago-Stommes, PhD, professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature; Kate Nolt, MPH, PhD, assistant professor and Master of Public Health program practicum coordinator; Kelly Dineen, RN, JD, PhD, associate professor of law and director of Creighton’s Health Law Program; and Jeffrey Smith, PhD, associate professor emeritus of education.

These faculty members will collaborate with community partners that include the Urban League of Nebraska, Doris Lassiter LLC, Lee Brown and Associates, OneWorld Community Health Centers, Nebraska Urban Indian Coalition, and the Omaha Housing Authority.


Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.

A Jesuit, Catholic University since 1878

Creighton University - 2500 California Plaza - Omaha NE - 68178 - 402.280.2700

Contact the Webmaster - Copyright ©2019