Sara al-Dahir, PharmD, and her team in the College of Pharmacy were selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to present their research on vaccine hesitancy to the Biden administration. The research project was developed in response to the NIH sending a Notice of Special Interest (NSI) offering funding for research done on COVID-19 testing in the summer of 2020. Dr. Al-Dahir’s team went the extra step to focus solely on vaccine hesitancy in the African American community.

February 05, 2021

“The initial call for research was for COVID-19 testing, but we are clinicians, so we knew the real issue down the line would be vaccinations and vaccine-hesitancy. We knew we needed to be proactive, and it turns out we were the only group to do so,” said Dr. Al-Dahir, Clinical Professor Division of Clinical and Administrative Sciences. 

The team’s goal is to analyze the relationship between vaccines and African American communities to increase vaccine uptake among communities of color. The team developed a series of surveys to connect with the community to understand their concerns regarding vaccines. The next phase will include training pharmacists to communicate with patients to address those concerns. Though the NIH initially requested research conducted on COVID-19 testing, Dr. Al-Dahir and her team understood that vaccination hesitancy would become the larger issue.

“The College of Pharmacy’s mission is to reduce health disparities, specifically among African American communities,” said Dr. Christopher Gillard, Clinical Associate Professor of Pharmacy in Xavier’s Division of Clinical & Administrative Sciences, “Our students are very heavily involved in this research project. They are currently working to survey the population in order to understand their beliefs, thoughts and feelings about vaccinations. The students are available to help facilitate questions community members have about vaccination with the research team.” 

Prior to being selected to present their research, Dr. Al-Dahir’s team received a grant totaling $958,000 from the NIH for their vaccine-hesitancy research submission. Xavier University of Louisiana was the only HBCU recognized among a list of hundreds of institutions that submitted research. 

“We have a vaccine that’s 90 percent effective, but most of the African American population isn’t interested in having it. That’s the issue we have to address. This has helped me realize that it will take people who look like those in the affected communities to connect with them in order to increase vaccination rates and ultimately better their understanding of medicine. We are ready to do the work,” said Dr. Gillard. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that African American populations have disproportionately limited access to healthcare and information. People of color suffer the most from underlying conditions that make them even more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. However, despite these groups being heavily affected by the pandemic, historical mistreatment of people of color in health systems has led to persisting vaccine-hesitancy in these communities. Dr. Al-Dahir and her team are partnering with several local churches, pharmacists and pharmacies in the New Orleans community. They hope their research will address cultural competency and improve vaccine uptake. Dr. Al-Dahir and her team are determined to find solutions.   

“It all ties to our mission and our commitment to addressing global health equity issues. Norman C. Francis had a vision that this university would send students of color to medical school and this is part of that. You see your pharmacist more than your doctor, so it’s very important that we have been recognized as the solution to the problem. It’s our responsibility to provide the answers our community needs,” said Dr. Al-Dahir.

More information on Xavier University’s College of Pharmacy can be found here. All members who have contributed to these research efforts are listed below:

College of Pharmacy

Sara Al-Dahir

Brittany Singleton

Christopher Gillard

Martha Earls

Lakeisha Williams

Kathleen Kennedy

Daniel Sarpong 

Daniel Salmon, Johns Hopkins University,  Co-PI 

College of Arts & Sciences 

Cirecie West-Oulatunji

Gene D'Amour

What to read next

Niya Jeter, a pharmacy senior at Xavier University of Louisiana, has been selected for the Senior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (SRCOSTEP) with the US Public Health Services (USPHS). The program provides an opportunity for students entering their final year of graduate school or professional training to get paid an officer's salary while in school, in exchange for a two-year commitment as a USPHS Commissioned Officer upon graduation.

College of Pharmacy