BOONE, N.C. — Studies confirm that staying up to date on vaccinations can significantly reduce older adults’ risks of hospitalization or death from the flu and COVID-19. To improve vaccination rates among adults ages 60 and older in 10 Western North Carolina counties, the National Council on Aging has awarded a $481,378 grant to Appalachian State University’s Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services.
In partnership with High Country Community Health, a federally qualified health center based in Boone, the institute will hold flu and COVID-19 vaccine clinics this fall at senior centers, libraries and other locations in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey counties. While vaccination rates vary by county, the rate of COVID vaccine participation in these counties has dropped from an initial average of 79% down to 32% for COVID boosters, and a little less than half of the region’s older adult population received a flu vaccine the previous year, according to the grant application.
The Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services is part of App State’s Beaver College of Health Sciences, providing clinical services, community outreach, training programs and research opportunities related to holistic health and well-being. The grant is administered by the institute’s Interprofessional Clinic as part of the Aging Well program, which collaborates with community partners to support healthy aging in adults through health screenings, workshops and wellness programs.
“Our Aging Well program makes us an ideal partner to create a vaccination program for the region,” said Dr. Gary McCullough, associate dean in the Beaver College of Health Sciences. “We are joining with many of our existing community partners and creating new relationships to make vaccination convenient and to keep folks healthy.”
A team of faculty, staff, students and recent graduates from App State are participating in the grant program, with clinics beginning Sept. 27 and continuing through November.
The grant’s principal investigators are Bryan Belcher, director of the Interprofessional Clinic, and McKenzie Hellman, the institute’s health and wellness coordinator. Two recent master’s graduates from the Beaver College of Health Sciences, Lizzie Gamwell Muscarello ’23 and Anna Duke ’20 ’23, are serving as vaccine program coordinators based at the Hickory and Boone campuses, respectively.
App State students from the Department of Nursing will assist county health department nurses with administering the vaccines. Nursing faculty Melinda Bogardus, PhD, RN, will serve as a clinical consultant and work closely with High Country Community Health Clinic Director Theresa Gibbs, FNP, and Leigh Ann Byrd, chief operations officer of High Country Community Health, who will facilitate the on-site vaccination events.
Visit ihhs.appstate.edu/vaccineclinics for a list of clinic dates, times and locations and more information about the program. You can also call 828-379-1308 or 828-379-1309.
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About the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Institute for Health and Human Services
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Institute for Health and Human Services connects Appalachian State University to the community by supporting health and wellness research, interprofessional clinics and community outreach programs. The institute partners with the community to better prepare students to become exceptional practitioners who will continue to address health issues and disparities throughout the region and beyond. Learn more at https://ihhs.appstate.edu.
About the Beaver College of Health Sciences
Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS), opened in 2010, is transforming the health and quality of life for the communities it serves through interprofessional collaboration and innovation in teaching, scholarship, service and clinical outreach. BCHS offers nine undergraduate degree programs and seven graduate degree programs, which are organized into six departments: Nursing, Nutrition and Health Care Management, Public Health and Exercise Science, Recreation Management and Physical Education, Rehabilitation Sciences, and Social Work. The college’s academic programs are located in the Holmes Convocation Center on App State’s main campus and the Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences, a state-of-the-art, 203,000-square-foot facility that is the cornerstone of the Wellness District. In addition, the college supports the Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services and has collaborative partnerships with the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program, UNC Health Appalachian and numerous other health agencies. Learn more at https://healthsciences.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.