NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – An assistant professor at Norfolk State University studies vaccine reluctance and health disparities in urban communities in hopes of better communication and future changes policy.
Dr. Sharon Alston works at the Ethel R. Strong School of Social Work and is a member of the Interdisciplinary Leaders Research Program through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Alston arrived in Norfolk State in 2017 and, like higher education professionals across the country, experienced the challenges of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m a social worker and so when COVID happened I didn’t look at it like it was a pandemic or an experiment for the world, but how it impacted our students She said. “The students have lost their jobs, their families and their friends. I was compassionate and compassionate that it was for them to go back to online school but still be isolated from their support or family. Many had no resources.
Alston says the university quickly got to work providing students with what they needed, like computers, webcams, and virtual assistance.
Nearly a year and a half later, Alston and his students are back on campus to learn together.
“It was a trial and error in a good way. The world does not stop. I always tell our kids that life doesn’t end for us, so how do we navigate this process? ” she said.
Alston loves his students and says his students have been sensitive to the rules and protocols in place on campus.
“They appreciate frank conversations about their role in this process, their role in protecting the university community, their peers. I’m proud of them, ”she said.
Although she has noticed how receptive students on campus are to getting the vaccine and following directions, Alston says it’s not like that everywhere.
That’s why she uses her scholarship to examine the health disparities in the inner city and the reluctance to vaccinate here in Norfolk and in her hometown of New York.
“My premise is that we have to ask ‘Why? Why are people reluctant to get vaccinated? said Alston. “Until we ask the community and hear the voices of the community, this is where we’re really going to get information on why this is a challenge for some and not for others.”
This month, Alston will travel to New York for data collection and will also return to Norfolk to continue his research.
Alston says she received the grant a year ago for the project and is seeking more funding to conduct a larger sample.
She hopes her work will make a difference in the years to come, whether it’s spreading education in different ways, raising the voices of those affected by these health disparities higher, or establishing better communication between these communities and those who set the guidelines.
“What I hope my research will inform decision makers, but we are developing policies that reflect the needs and voices of our community members,” she said.