Flu shots encouraged in communities of color

When Sandy Sandoval tries to get her family members to get the flu shot, they usually tell her that the shot isn’t working and that the vitamins they’re taking are enough to protect them through the season.

But it didn’t stop the 22-year-old from sitting in the appointment room at an AltaMed clinic in Santa Ana earlier this month to get her annual flu shot before heading to her job at an Aldi supermarket.

She knows she’s unlikely to convince her family to get vaccinated, but says she feels safe and secure. This time she was even more motivated as she watched her colleagues of all ages catch the flu.

“Everyone gets sick,” Sandoval said. “So far I haven’t gotten sick because I got through all my vaccines. I think it works.”

According to the State Department of Public Health, California has had 17 flu deaths since October. For weeks, public health officials have been bracing for a ailing winter that includes the alarmingly early start of flu season, rising COVID-19 cases and a spate of cases of the respiratory syncytial virus known as RSV.

But public health officials are also voicing concerns about how communities of color might fare when the flu returns and whether they can be successful in convincing them to get vaccinated.

dr Alexander Rodgers, associate program director for the Family Medicine Residency at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Willowbrook, said the upcoming flu season comes after years of mask requirements and social distancing. Although these guidelines were in place to ward off COVID-19, he said they also helped prevent cases of the flu.

While he and other providers are encouraging patients to get vaccinated against the flu, time will tell how bad this year’s cases of coronavirus and flu will be. Getting people for their first COVID-19 shots has generally worked, Rodgers said, but getting them to come back for boosters and other shots has been a challenge.

“I think a lot of people do this mental calculus in their head and say, ‘Well, I’ve got four COVID shots, so do I really need a flu shot?'” Rodgers said. “They just say, ‘I don’t want to do one more vaccine this year,’ so I’m wondering what the flu shot participation will be like.”

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that flu vaccination rates among Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Alaskan Natives have been “consistently lower” than other ethnic groups nationwide since 2010. During the 2021-22 season, 42% of Black adults received a flu shot, while 38% of Hispanic adults and 41% of Native American and Alaskan Natives did the same. White and Asian adults were vaccinated 54%.

“Flu vaccines are the best way to protect yourself from the flu and its potentially serious complications,” said Debra Houry, deputy principal director of the CDC, in a news release. “Improving access to and people’s confidence in influenza vaccines is critical to reducing inequalities.”

Federal health officials noted in the report that lack of access to health care and insurance, missed immunization opportunities, and misinformation and distrust are among the reasons people of color are less likely to get the flu vaccine.

Additionally, chronic health issues that often plague communities of color, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, increase their risk of flu complications. The report found that people of color are more likely to be hospitalized for severe cases of flu.

During the 2020-21 flu season in the United States and worldwide, there weren’t enough cases of flu for the CDC to estimate how many people avoided hospitalizations and flu deaths because of vaccination.

But during the 2019-20 flu season, when more data became available, the agency estimated 38 million people in the United States fell ill. This resulted in an estimated 400,000 people being hospitalized and 22,000 dying from the disease. In the same season, influenza vaccines prevented an estimated 7.5 million cases of influenza. The vaccines also prevented an estimated 105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 6,300 deaths.

Getting people vaccinated against the flu statewide has been difficult in the past, and Los Angeles County is no different, said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health.

She said this season will be important as influenza cases are expected to rise in the coming colder months, which is why public health officials are continuing to urge people to get their COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots.

For most people, Ferrer said, the issue is time and access, making it important for healthcare providers to offer both vaccines whenever they can. She said the department has been working to have mobile clinics in communities and make vaccines available to homebound people. It also works with community-based organizations.

“We hope that, given the messages and especially the danger that many respiratory diseases are circulating at the same time and impacting the healthcare system, people will move forward and take advantage of the easy access [and] good information to better protect yourself,” Ferrer said.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-26/flu-season-communities-of-color-vaccination Flu shots encouraged in communities of color

Alley Einstein

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