URI pharmacy professor partners with political scientists to get word out on pneumococcal disease vaccinations

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KINGSTON, R.I. – March 23, 2016 — Political science isn’t a field that comes to mind when clinicians are trying to convince adult members of the minority community to get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections, which include pneumonia and bloodstream infections.

But for University of Rhode Island Pharmacy Professor Kerry LaPlante the connection is clear. She is working with URI Political Science Professor Brian Krueger, chair of political science, and Associate Professor Marc Hutchison on a $606,173 research grant to develop science-based messages to improve pneumococcal vaccination rates in black and Hispanic/Latino populations.

Working with URI Pharmacy Assistant Professor Aisling Caffrey, URI Clinical Pharmacy Professor Kelly Orr, and colleagues Haley Morrill, doctor of pharmacy at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Jennifer DeAngelis, coordinator of LaPlante’s research program. The team will create a national survey to identify the ingrained attitudes, apathy, and possible misconceptions that lead older minority adults to put off vaccination. They will use their findings to craft and test communication to overcome these barriers.

Hutchison and Krueger bring extensive experience in survey design and analysis to the project. “The core of this work is their expertise in surveying,” says principal investigator LaPlante.

With nearly 4 million illnesses and 22,000 deaths from invasive pneumococcal disease each year, lack of vaccination participation is a public health issue with far-reaching impact—particularly among black and Hispanic/Latino populations, where pneumococcal vaccination rates among adults older than 65 are low (in 2013, coverage was 48.7 percent and 39.2 percent respectively, versus 63.6 percent among whites), despite a higher prevalence of risk factors.

Though previous findings suggest attitudes and beliefs that may contribute to this disparity, more research is needed.

“We’ve learned from past literature some of the reasons why people from underrepresented communities don’t get vaccinated,” says Krueger. “They think vaccines don’t work or that they make you sick, they don’t trust doctors or the government, they can’t get time off from work or don’t realize vaccination is free. But we still don’t know enough about how people think about adult vaccines or the barriers and cultural issues that affect their decisions. Much of the current research and press focuses on children’s vaccines.”

Working with the Rhode Island Department of Health, Krueger and Hutchison will use interviews with pharmacists and community leaders in health care to develop an initial national survey to pinpoint ingrained attitudes and beliefs that contribute to vaccine hesitancy, then create and test persuasive new messages through a second national survey.

“Our goal is to figure out who influences these populations, where their trust is, and who can help them be more active in preventative health,” says LaPlante.

Based on the survey findings, the interdisciplinary team will create and distribute English and Spanish language educational messages to selected Walgreens locations in five states, conducting pilot field studies to measure the new messages’ impact on vaccination status, invasive pneumococcal disease rates and motivation to vaccinate.

The two-year grant, awarded by Pfizer Independent Grants for Learning and Change, builds on LaPlante’s work on a recently completed $703,000 research grant from Pfizer Medical Education Group to address educational and coordination barriers for adult pneumococcal disease in Rhode Island. In addition to drawing on Krueger and Hutchison’s expertise, the grant combines Caffrey’s experience in infectious disease epidemiology and Orr’s extensive background in community pharmacy practice and education.

“There wouldn’t seem to be a logical connection between political science and pharmacy, but it’s a beautiful collaboration,” says LaPlante. “We are able to come together with our different expertise to solve a problem and ultimately prevent sickness and deaths from certain types of pneumonia.”