ISU Extension and Outreach is dedicated to helping Iowans, and its latest effort centers on COVID-19 vaccination education.
Extension is partnering with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), the University of Iowa College of Public Health, and the Institute of Clinical and Translational Science to alert Iowans to three educational webinars in April.
"We have come together to leverage the strengths of these three partners," said Deb Sellers, College of Human Sciences associate dean and director of Human Sciences extension and outreach. "U of I has the medical expertise and the information about the safety of the vaccines, IDPH has been on the forefront of the COVID-19 response in the state and our role is to lift up the message of the partners."
Sellers said using extension's connections in 99 counties allows it to mobilize and encourage individuals to attend.
"We know that personal invitations from a trusted organization can make a difference for people," extension assistant vice president for county services Andrea Nelson said.
Extension will lean on previous relationships to spread information through a variety of channels, including phone calls, text messages, social media and emails.
Subject-matter experts will provide research-based information about the vaccines to help people in their decision-making process.
"We are not advocating for vaccinations; we are supporting vaccination education," Sellers said. "We want to offer Iowans the opportunity to come and listen to the best experts the state has to offer from the University of Iowa and IDPH about the science behind the COVID-19 vaccinations and the distribution of it in the state."
Sellers said participants also will have a chance to ask questions of the experts to better inform their decisions.
The pandemic exposed internet limitations for some Iowans, especially in rural areas. Extension plans to combat that by opening some of its county offices for people to gather -- physically distanced with face coverings -- and watch the webinars.
"We can host our own watch parties in the office," Nelson said. "We will provide the screen, and they can watch it there."
In addition to promoting the webinars, extension is helping coordinate the logistics. Audio visual support specialist Spencer Braly of information technology services is providing technical support, and extension specialists are assisting with the development of fliers and other marketing materials.
Extension had a one-hour vaccine information session for its staff April 1 about the webinars and to gather feedback.
"It was not a miniature session, but a chance to tell them what their role would be in communicating the message," Nelson said. "They had incredible questions and suggestions about how to reduce some barriers and make it available to more Iowans."
They reach Iowans all the time, so they know what needs to be done, Nelson said. Extension staff also will report back concerns from communities to make the dissemination of information circular rather than one-way.
This is not the first time extension has worked to aid Iowans with information about COVID-19. Extension partners with the 211 hotline -- a nationwide three-digit hotline for finding local health care, mental health resources, food, employment, government help and other needs -- to answer calls, and has seen a significant increase in call volume since the pandemic began.