Posted: April 14, 2023

View the recording from our conversation with Maria Luisa Tejada, Penn State Extension Educator, about her experiences working to develop trust for effective community engagement around vaccine hesitancy with Latinx communities in rural and urban places.

Session Description 

Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching & Engagement (EXCITE) is an initiative funded through an Interagency Agreement with the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to address health disparities by reducing vaccination hesitancy. 

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Latinx community was over-represented in coronavirus cases and more likely to suffer severe health outcomes and harder economic impact. Early data in the ten counties selected for Penn State Extension’s EXCITE project indicated that 12.03% of Hispanic adults had been fully vaccinated compared to 31.59% of non-Hispanics. 

Despite Extension’s long history as a trusted source of information, effective messaging requires more than providing materials in Spanish to reach Latinx communities. Science-based, unbiased education credentials do not guarantee trust and acceptance from hard-to-reach audiences. Recognizing this, Penn State Extension developed strategic partnerships within the community.

Storyteller Bio 

Maria Luisa (Malu) Tejada, MD MPH, is an Extension educator for the Food, Families, and Health unit. She co-leads the Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching and Engagement (EXCITE) project.  

She is passionate about addressing social determinants of health and health inequities, with a focus on Latinx communities. She enjoys working across teams and units and developing meaningful relationships with communities and organizations. She serves as an executive member of the Latinx Agricultural Network. She collaborates with the Penn State Cancer Institute through the Cancer Prevention in Pennsylvania Initiative and the Latino/Hispanic Community Cancer Advisory Board. She contributes as the human health expert to the Vector-borne Disease team and is a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor. 

About the Series

Stories from the Field is a conversation series on community engagement and applied research. The series is designed to bring academics and practitioners together for informal discussions about the challenges and opportunities of doing work with communities, businesses, and the public sector. Stories from the Field is hosted by Penn State's Center for Economic and Community Development, an applied research center dedicated to strengthening local and regional development in Pennsylvania and beyond.