Vaccinating a mobile population: UI Health Care researchers work to reach Iowa’s migrant workers

Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Every spring, thousands of seasonal migrant workers travel to Iowa to work on farms. Many do not speak English and are often undocumented, making this a population that tends to be “invisible” to the health care system. This can leave migrant workers vulnerable to illness and injury, putting them at higher risk for health complications, including severe illness from COVID-19.  

Researchers with University of Iowa Health Care are working to identify ways to overcome access issues among migrant and seasonal farmworkers, thanks to pilot grant funding from the Institute for Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS).  

Claudia Corwin, portrait
Claudia Corwin, MD, MPH

Gathering data to improve health care access 

“Vaccinating populations like migrant and seasonal workers is a critical step to achieving the community-wide immunity needed to end the pandemic,” says Claudia Corwin, MD, MPH, one of the principal investigators and clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at the UI Carver College of Medicine. “One big problem is there is no cohesive strategy for vaccinating this population. Our research collects data on this very vulnerable population – a population about which we have relatively little information.” 

“Without data, we can’t develop programs and policies to address these vulnerable, hard to reach populations,” says Corwin. “Without appropriate policies, then we are perpetuating inequities. We are looking to address these inequities through our research.”      

Kimberly C. Dukes, portrait
Kimberly C. Dukes, PhD


Collaborating with community organizations

Corwin and co-principal investigators Kimberly Dukes, PhD, UI research assistant professor of internal medicine at CCOM, and Emily Sinnwell, DNP, ARNP, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, assistant professor at UI College of Nursing, are collaborating with Proteus, a federally qualified mobile health center, to test whether it is possible to effectively engage migrant workers in health research and collect health data via a mobile application. The researchers also plan to deliver bilingual surveys to migrant workers across the state to identify their level of COVID-19 vaccine confidence and develop scientifically accurate, culturally responsive health messaging about COVID-19 vaccination. 

Corwin says the research will be used to further inform vaccination efforts for migrant workers. The researchers and Proteus have partnered with several community health centers to administer vaccines to migrant workers. UI Health Care will continue to explore opportunities to partner with county public health departments and other organizations to vaccinate hard-to-reach and underserved populations.    

Emily Sinnwell, portrait
Emily Sinnwell

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