Appalachian State University’s Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services Awarded Grant To Launch Regional Vaccine Program For Older Adults

Older adults are becoming less likely to receive their influenza and COVID-19 vaccines and more likely to die from these diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While life-saving vaccines are available, research shows COVID-19 vaccine rates have slowed among older adults.

To help encourage vaccination in 10 Western North Carolina counties, a new vaccine program funded by a $481,378 grant from the National Council on Aging is being planned by staff from Appalachian State University’s Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services (IHHS) in partnership with High Country Community Health

IHHS and HCCH will partner to educate and improve vaccination rates among adults ages 60 and older in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey counties. The grant, which will be part of the institute’s Aging Well program, builds upon an existing falls prevention grant funded by the Administration for Community Living.

While vaccination rates vary by county, the rate of COVID vaccine participation in these counties has dropped from an initial average of 79% down to 32% for COVID boosters, and less than half (48.8%) of the region’s older adult population received a flu vaccine the previous year, according to the grant application. 

“Through our Aging Well program, we were providing health screenings and fall prevention programs which made us an ideal partner to create a vaccination program for the region,” said Dr. Gary McCullough, App State’s Beaver College of Health Sciences associate dean. “We are joining with many of our existing community partners and creating new relationships to make vaccination convenient and keep folks healthy.” 

Meet The Planning and Implementation Team 

To ensure the program succeeds in reaching its goal of providing at least 1,000 COVID and 1,000 influenza vaccines in the region, a team of faculty, staff, students and recent graduates from App State are participating in the grant, with clinics slated to begin in September and continue through the winter months. To learn more about upcoming vaccine opportunities, visit

The grant’s principal investigators are Bryan Belcher, director of IHHS Interprofessional Clinics, and McKenzie Hellman, IHHS Health and Wellness coordinator. Two recent master’s graduates from the Beaver College of Health Sciences, Lizzie Gamwell Muscarello ‘23 Exercise Science graduate, and Anna Duke, ‘23 Nutrition and Dietetics graduate, are coordinating with local partners to plan the clinics and outreach. 

Individuals aged 60 or older can learn more about how, when or where to receive COVID-19 or flu vaccines by calling (828) 379-1308 or (828) 379-1309.

App State students from the Department of Nursing will assist county health department nurses administer the vaccines. Nursing faculty Melinda Bogardus, PhD, RN, will serve as a clinical consultant and work closely with High Country Community Health Clinic Director Theresa Gibbs, FNP, and Leigh Ann Byrd, chief operations officer, who will facilitate the onsite vaccination events. 

About the Region 

The 10-county region has significant rural areas; five of the 10 counties are considered completely rural and another three counties are more than half rural. 

The grant application states that many older adults living in rural areas may live in isolated areas without access to transportation and most do not have access to a public transportation system. 

About Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services 

The Blue Cross North Carolina Institute for Health and Human Services (IHHS) provides multidisciplinary research opportunities, clinical services, community outreach, and training programs related to holistic health and well-being with the overarching goal of improving lives through transformative social, environmental, and healthcare advances. IHHS aspires to take education and research beyond the walls of academia by engaging the very people it serves in the process of training future providers, building research relevant to rural health, and creating a sustainable culture of health through regional community partnerships in education and preventive services.

About the National Council on Aging

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is the national voice for every person’s right to age well. NCOA believes that how we age should not be determined by gender, color, sexuality, income, or ZIP code. Working with thousands of national and local partners, NCOA provides resources, tools, best practices, and advocacy to ensure every person can age with health and financial security. Founded in 1950, NCAO is the oldest national organization focused on older adults. Learn more at and @NCOAging.

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Published: Sep 21, 2023 11:51am