NIH Funds $12m for COVID-19 Vaccine & Therapy Trial Participation Education

NIH Funds $12m for COVID-19 Vaccine & Therapy Trial Participation Education

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $12 million to RTI International (RTI), a non-profit research institution, to support the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) against COVID-19 Disparities. As the pandemic has hit ethnic and racial minorities with severity, the fund will be deployed to 11 states where CEALs have already been set up with a previous financing. RTI has been designated the Technical and Administrative Support and Coordination (TASC) Center.   CEAL research teams will focus on COVID-19 awareness and education research, with a particular focus on African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Native Americans. NIH is concentrating on expanding the ongoing work of educating minorities about COVID-19 vaccine and therapy trials via the NIH COVID-19 trials networks.

As it turns out, the three major minority groups (African American (13%), Hispanic (20%) and Native Americans (1%)) account for about 34% of the U.S. population yet about half of the COVID-19 cases are represented by these groups.

What is CEAL?

CEAL is an NIH-wide effort led by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). It expands existing community outreach efforts already underway by NIH COVID-19 trial networks.

The CEAL research teams will leverage established relationships between NIH-funded researchers and local community-engaged leaders to help reach underserved communities that might not be located near COVID-19 clinical research recruitment sites.  Put simply, the NIH is trying to leverage existing research networks and investigators are part of the targeted communities of color for what is hoped to be more effective education and engagement efforts impacting COVID-19 clinical trial participation within the next quarters.

Focus: Clinical Trials

The CEAL research teams will center attention on COVID-19 awareness and education research. Key areas of focus include participation in vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials to prevent and treat COVID-19.  “Since communities of color have been particularly affected, and also historically underrepresented in clinical research, it is essential that we encourage people to join COVID-19 research studies,” said NHLBI Director Gary Gibbons, M.D. “That’s why NIH is partnering with messengers who live, work, and worship in the same communities where the disease has caused the highest rates of sickness and death. In the middle of a pandemic, people need to hear familiar, trusted voices they know are advocating for their health and safety.”

Communities of Special Focus

CEAL research will be particularly active in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.


CEAL represents an NIH-wide effort led by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The new award helps fund further work, expanding upon existing community outreach efforts already ongoing by NIH COVID-19 trial networks.

CEAL Teams

CEAL research teams include NIH and other federally funded entities that have community engagement expertise, non-academic community-based organizations, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), state and/or local health departments, and others. The goal here is to expeditiously commence outreach to reduce the impact of COVID-19—particularly as the cold winter months approach. NIH has RTI in place as well to evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts via community engaged research.

Who is RTI International?

RTI International is an independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition. They seek to target and address the most pressing critical problems with science-based solutions in pursuit of a better future. The organization actually started back in 1958 with $500,000 in funding from local businesses and three North Carolina universities that form the Research Triangle. They focus on topics such as HIV/AIDS, healthcare, education curriculum, and others. The U.S. Agency for International Development accounts for a significant amount  RTI’s research revenue.

The CEAL principal investigators and institutions

·         Mona N. Fouad, M.D., M.P.H.
University of Alabama at Birmingham

·         Sairam Parthasarathy, M.D.
University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson

·         Arleen F. Brown, M.D., Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles

·         Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H
University of Miami

·         Tabia Henry Akintobi, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta

·         Marie A. Krousel-Wood, M.D.
Tulane University, New Orleans 

·         Erica Marsh, M.D.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

·         Caroline Compretta, Ph.D.
University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson

·         Anissa I. Vines, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

·         Paul Juarez, Ph.D.
Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee

·         Jamboor Vishwanatha, Ph.D.
University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth

·         Linda Squiers, Ph.D.
Technical Lead, TASC
RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

About the National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)

NIMHD leads scientific research to improve minority health and eliminate health disparities by conducting and supporting research; planning, reviewing, coordinating, and evaluating all minority health and health disparities research at NIH; promoting and supporting the training of a diverse research workforce; translating and disseminating research information; and fostering collaborations and partnerships.

Call to Action: For more information about CEAL, visit the NIH COVID-19 communities page.