Racial disparities in flu vaccination rates have serious consequences

For the 2022-2023 flu season, 128.4 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the USA. And while half of American adults get their flu shot each year, a new report from the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention finds that Black, Hispanic, and Native American/Alaska Native (AI/AN) adults are less likely to get a flu shot — and more likely to be hospitalized.

Vaccinations have always been a point of contention for communities of color, sparking hesitation born of a lack of access and distrust of the medical system.

“Underrepresented minorities are less likely to have access to health care, so if you don’t have a primary care provider, you don’t have health insurance, you may not have access to the vaccine,” said Dr. Bonzo Reddicklocal doctor at JC Lewis Primary Health Care Center.

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“And then for people who have access to the vaccine, sometimes there is a lot of mistrust in our communities where people don’t trust vaccines. Some people believe that vaccines cause autism based on some real fraudulent studies that were done by a guy in the UK a few years ago. … There have been many widespread systemic injustices toward black and other minority communities in the United States and health care.

This systemic injustice and distrust is attributed to a series of historical atrocities where black Americans were abused by the US government and medical system. From Tuskegee Experience at The Stolen Cells of Henrietta Lacksvaccine hesitancy is typically hyperfocused on these unethical practices and other barriers that go beyond distrust and contribute to inequities in influenza vaccination.

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The push for the COVID vaccine highlighted these disparities, and it boiled down to lack of access to health care and insurance, misconceptions like the flu vaccine can actually give patients the flu, the overall distance from vaccination sites – which turned out to be less in communities of color – and limited public transport.

Nurse practitioner Samantha Soto gives 92-year-old Dima Radilla a flu shot during a drive-in visit to St. Joseph's/Candler Good Samaritan Clinic in Garden City.

One thing Reddick learned about COVID vaccinations was that the easier he made it for people, the more likely they were to get vaccinated. The difference in willingness to queue at the Civic Center for a few hours versus a mobile unit that met people where they were and took about five minutes was striking.

Flu vaccination rates continue to show persistent gaps and racial disparities in adult flu vaccination, which can lead to hospitalization, severe illness and even death. Reddick noted that with respiratory infections like the flu, vaccines can either make patients less likely to get the flu or, if they do catch it, be less likely to become seriously ill or die.

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“That’s what leads to a lot of disparities where you can see certain communities where they have higher death rates or higher hospitalizations from a disease like the flu or even something like COVID and a lot of It’s related to vaccinations. It’s heartbreaking when you’re like, ‘Wow, you’re sick with this disease, and if you get vaccinated, you either won’t get it or you won’t be very sick.’

    Physician's assistant Stephanie Hawk reads a label during a flu vaccination drive at a clinic at St. Joseph's/Candler Good Samaritan Clinic in Garden City.

Beyond educating patients about the benefits of the flu vaccine, Reddick said diversity among physicians is also a step in reducing inequities in uptake.

It has been argued that sharing a racial or cultural background with one’s doctor helps build a sense of comfort that reduces pain and anxiety and promotes a better sense of trust and communication in the relationship.

“People sometimes want information and sometimes they want information from people who look like them. I think having people, either doctors, clinicians or other public health professionals, who belong to certain from the same communities that we’re talking about – which are minority communities – I think that’s one way to do it because that’s when they’ll ‘I’ll trust you.

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In Chatham County, organizations like Healthy Savannah, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Savannah Mayor Van Johnson’s Advisory Committee have worked with Reddick to spread information about the importance of vaccination.

With a flu season, expected to be bad, in full swing in Georgia, Reddick hopes people will be more willing to get their flu shot.

Clinic assistant Maira Bergara gives a patient the flu shot during a drive-thru at St. Joseph's/Candler Good Samaritan Clinic in Garden City.

The overflow of information and education that has resulted from the administration of COVID-19 vaccines is a trend that he hopes will continue to influence people to get their flu shots. Within his own family and some of his patients, Reddick has seen people who were adamant about not getting the flu shot choosing to get the COVID and flu shot over the past two years. due to the messages being shared around the world.

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“I am cautiously optimistic that we will see a lot more people who have learned more about vaccines, who have understood the information, will trust them a lot more. will get them.”

Laura Nwogu is a quality of life reporter for Savannah Morning News. Contact her at [email protected] Twitter: @lauranwogu_

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