Alabama AHEC program creates network to address COVID-19 testing and vaccines in rural communities

The network offers a playbook — a step-by-step guide to setting up and managing a vaccination site.
Written by: Allison Abney
Media contacts: Bob Shepard and Allison Abney

From side, a healthcare worker is wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) head cover, face shield, face mask, jacket, and gloves as she vaccinates an individual sitting in vehicle as UAB and the City of Hoover open up a COVID-19 Vaccination Site at the Hoover Met Complex on February 2, 2021.   The Alabama Statewide Area Healthcare Education Centers have initiated a partnership network in a statewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alabama AHEC Network was formed to create a coalition of community partners from across the state by providing community-based training to teams involved with COVID-19 testing in rural and underserved Alabama.

AHEC has also produced a playbook, “How to Establish a Community-Based Vaccination Site for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine,” that will enable any organization in the state to follow a series of steps and thereby establish vaccination sites as vaccines become available for distribution.

“We are fortunate to have John P. McGuinness, M.D., MPH, serving in a leadership capacity for our vaccine initiative, and in the creation of this playbook,” said Michael B. Faircloth, M.D., director, Alabama Statewide AHEC Program. “It was a massive undertaking made possible only through a joint effort of our dedicated leadership team — Dr. Bill Curry, Dr. Rick Kilgore and Dr. Cindy Selleck in particular, along with many more. We consider this playbook to be a dynamic document that will be adapted and improved, as needed, with new learning over time.”                                                                                

The Network partnership comprises the Alabama Statewide AHEC Program Office — housed within the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Family and Community Medicine — and its five regional AHEC centers, the Alabama Civil Air Patrol, UAB Infectious Disease Laboratory, Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Alabama Department of Public Health and instrumental community partners identified by region. 

Since May 2020, the Alabama AHEC Network has made great strides in its outreach initiatives, and in the training and recruitment of community health workers to assist in COVID-19 testing. There has been a focus on underserved populations with a higher incidence of COVID-19-related illnesses, particularly in Hispanic and African American populations within communities where the access to care is limited. As of February 2021, the Network has administered 3,927 tests at 62 testing sites across the state. The success of this initiative will allow the network to target these same rural and underserved populations where vaccine hesitancy remains high, and to assist other organizations with an interest in doing the same.

The vaccination effort will be a massive undertaking that will require the commitment and drive of partners throughout Alabama’s health care community. Rural vaccination efforts will be particularly difficult as related to the disparity of access, and shortages of hospitals and health professionals. The aim of the Alabama AHEC Network is to operationalize a strategy to best deliver vaccines to those areas that need it most, in addition to a cohesive public health model to educate patients and alleviate fears so that community members are willing to complete the prescribed vaccination regimen. 

Organizations interested in setting up a vaccination site in their community are encouraged to review the Alabama AHEC Network playbook at