$5 million NIH award to address disparities in COVID-19 testing among vulnerable

Electra Paskett and Rebecca Jackson FPL The Ohio State University has received a $5 million, two-year award from the National Institutes of Health RADx-UP program to support projects designed to rapidly implement COVID-19 testing strategies in populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Ohio State is among 32 institutions to receive awards to help African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinos/Latinas, Native Hawaiians, older adults, pregnant women and those who are homeless or incarcerated.

A part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program will support research that aims to better understand COVID-19 testing patterns among minority and vulnerable populations; strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes; and develop strategies to reduce the disparities in COVID-19 testing, treatment and contact tracing.

“We decided to pursue this opportunity to benefit the residents of Ohio, especially minority and vulnerable populations who bear the brunt of COVID and its impacts in all facets of life,” said multiple-principal investigator Electra Paskett, director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control in the Department of Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

As of Aug. 1, Ohio had reported 91,159 COVID-19 cases and 3,489 deaths, and the burden of COVID-19 had disproportionally impacted Ohio’s Black and Latinos/Latinas communities. Although only 13.1% and 4% of Ohio’s population is Black and/or Hispanic/Latino respectively, 26% of Ohio’s cases are among African-American residents and 7% are among Hispanic/Latino populations, researchers wrote in their proposal.

“We plan to go to the populations within communities with the highest rates of health disparities to understand and develop ways to help increase education, testing, and contact tracing in concert with the communities. We’ll also facilitate access to testing to those populations,” said Paskett, director of the Diversity Enhancement Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Center.

The research team includes more than a dozen investigators at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; Ohio State’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Public Health and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs; Nationwide Children’s Hospital; and the State of Ohio. The award is linked to Ohio State’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards grant.

“This project reflects our ongoing commitment to apply rigorous scientific methods embedded in community-engaged research to improve health equity and address the most pressing health issues for Ohioans. If successful, RADx-UP Ohio can be disseminated throughout Ohio and across the United States to scale-up COVID-19 testing and, later, vaccination in minority, underserved and vulnerable populations,” said multiple-principal investigator Dr. Rebecca Jackson, director of The Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science and associate dean for Clinical Translational Research.

Using data from an Ohio State and Ohio Department of Health study, researchers have chosen 12 at-risk counties in Ohio that contain multiple census tracks with disproportionately high concentrations of minority, and vulnerable populations and few or no COVID-19 testing sites. The six urban counties in this project are Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Jefferson, Lucas and Trumbull, while the six rural counties are Hardin, Meigs, Muskingum, Ross, Scioto and Washington.

“It is critical that all Americans have access to rapid, accurate diagnostics for COVID-19, especially underserved and vulnerable populations who are bearing the brunt of this disease,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins. “The RADx-UP program will help us better understand and alleviate the barriers to testing for those most vulnerable and reduce the burden of this disease.”