Flu vaccination rate disparities revealed

A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that the disparity in flu vaccination rates between elderly whites, Hispanics and African-Americans rises when vaccine supplies are delayed or limited.

The gaps in seasonal influenza vaccination rates between the ethnic groups grew by as many as seven percentage points when there were vaccination supply problems, Medical News Today reports. When the supply was abundant and timely, the gap narrowed by as much as 11 percent.

“There is a strong association between influenza vaccine supply and the gap in vaccination rates between racial and ethnic groups,” Byung-Kwang Yoo, an assistant professor in the department of community and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead study author, said, according to Medical News Today. “These disparities are aggravated when vaccine supply is delayed or decreased.”

Because influenza is one of the major causes of death among people 65 and older, these disparities in immunization rates are a persistent and critical public health obstacle.

The study used data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, which showed seasonal influenza vaccination rates between 2000 and 2005, Medical News Today reports. Vaccination rates for non-Hispanic whites ranged from 71 to 78 percent, African-Americans ranged from 43 to 63 percent, and Hispanics that are English speaking ranged from 58 to 75 percent. The lowest group was Spanish speaking Hispanics at 31 to 53 percent.

The authors of the study recommend a more concentrated effort to make sure clinics with vulnerable populations are more prioritized for vaccine supply and for the government to help offset the financial risk for these providers by covering costs. They also believe that multilingual and broad-based communication efforts would be helpful.