Washington State University Pharmacy students, 4-H teens, and adult mentors in Yakima, Benton, and Franklin Counties will be educating their communities about COVID-19 vaccines thanks to dual grants.

Funded through All in Washington’s Vaccine Equity Initiative, the pair of $25,000 awards will support WSU Extension and 4-H Youth Development programs to develop vaccine education outreach.

“This program is a wonderful opportunity for Extension to provide education on real world issues that are affecting people right now,” said Yadi Olivera Guerrero, Yakima County Extension family resiliency, health and wellness specialist.

Extension networks are a way to reach underserved communities across Washington, and 4-H programs are run by WSU Extension throughout the state’s 39 counties and one tribal Extension office.

When the Benton Franklin Health District in central Washington called WSU Extension to discuss vaccines, Guerrero knew she had to find a way to help inform the public.

“We need to get information about vaccines to everyone in Washington, so people can make an informed choice, and that includes our rural areas,” she said. “We have a goal to develop vaccine outreach materials in Spanish for our bilingual communities as well.”

Youth leadership

This year, teens in Yakima County’s 4-H Youth Advocates for Health program have taught classes in nutrition and physical health to their community, and ran youth-lead outreach projects on opioid misuse and mental health awareness.

Now, they are partnering with faculty and students from WSU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and WSU’s Murrow College of Communications to learn about vaccine science, vaccine hesitancy, and communication best practices. Faculty and volunteers from WSU Extension will support the teen’s leadership and outreach skill development and help them coordinate community events.

“This is an exciting opportunity for local teens to focus their creativity, community connections, and desire to make a difference,” said Alison White, 4-H Youth development regional specialist. “This program will provide teens real-world experience with a complex issue within a fun and supportive team, boosting their skills as leaders, educators, and community members.”

Guerrero is hopeful the program will inspire the teens involved to possibly pursue careers in health sciences.

“Students are able to gain workforce prep skills while giving back to their community,” she said.

While the outreach efforts led by 4-H youth will be focused in Yakima, Benton, and Franklin counties, Guerrero said any outreach materials like educational pamphlets, flyers, or videos developed with the grant funding will be shared statewide.

Training for the 4-H Youth Advocates for Health working on this project is set to start this summer. To get involved, contact Yadi Olivera Guerrero at (509) 574-1582 or yadi.olivera@wsu.edu for more information.