Dr. Maristela Rovai, Assistant Professor and SDSU Extension Dairy Specialist, has received federal funding from the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS) to help boost COVID-19 vaccination efforts among South Dakota's dairy industry workforce. The project is titled, "Overcoming Dairy Employees' Hesitancy to the COVID-19 Vaccine: Using Outreach, Education, Media and Community."
"Vaccines are instrumental in controlling COVID-19 and a vital tool to maintain public health," Rovai says. "As cases and deaths continue to rise within the Hispanic/Latino countries, there is also vaccine hesitancy and skepticism. This vaccination program will offer a duel-targeted approach; SDSU Extension will provide the educational outreach, while the community will provide social support. The importance of trustworthy, reliable information and dialogue is essential in achieving the Hispanic population's vaccination goal."
Since joining SDSU Extension in 2014, Rovai, who is Latino and bilingual, has established a strong rapport with the state's Hispanic dairy workers and farm owners. She has conducted employee training throughout the Midwest and developed Extension programs in workforce development, best production practices and dairy employee wellbeing. She has also designed and led numerous health education seminars for this targeted population.
"This project will enhance and strengthen the dairy farm workforce, while contributing to community vaccination rates to achieve herd immunity," Rovai says. "Education will enhance farm employee awareness on improving quality of life, preventing diseases and realizing the importance of being vaccinated."
Rovai's goal is to improve overall worker health knowledge and wellbeing through a short educational talk covering the importance of services that promote human health, including vaccination facts and myths.
The 15-minute educational seminar session will be conducted for dairy farm employees face-to-face at their workplaces, generally around lunch break or at the end/start of working shifts. In line with CDC guidelines, seminars will be delivered in small groups, where social distancing can be maintained between seminar leaders and attendees.
The SDSU Dairy Extension team, led by Rovai for this project, has established a network of community partners to reach out to the Hispanic community and help overcome administrative barriers to vaccination (i.e. interpreters, assistance with completing vaccine program paperwork, transportation, etc.). The collaborators are the Brookings Multicultural Center, Brookings Economic Development Corporation, Brookings International Healthcare Committee, South Dakota Voices for Peace, Brookings Health System and Glacial Lakes Multicultural Center in Watertown.