As Americans brace for what could be a brutal flu season, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a report showing that Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native adults are less likely to receive flu vaccinations, and are more likely to be hospitalized with the illness, compared with white adults.
The CDC report, based on data collected from the 2009-10 through 2021-22 flu seasons, found that vaccination rates were lowest among Hispanic adults at 37.9%, with slightly higher percentages among the American Indian/Alaska Native (40.9%) and Black (42%) adult populations. With white adults, the vaccination rate is 53.9%.
CDC data also notes that flu-related hospitalization rates were almost 80% higher among Black adults compared with white adults, as well as 30% higher among American Indian/Alaska Native adults, and 20% higher among Hispanic adults.
The CDC pointed to a few different factors behind the racial and ethnic disparities in flu vaccination rates and disease severity. “Distrust of the medical system, misperceptions about vaccine safety, and higher levels of concern about side effects” all play a role, the CDC said in its report.
Plus, “Members of racial and ethnic minority groups might face barriers to affordable, quality health care,” the CDC added, citing access to health insurance and transportation to health providers among the barriers. The CDC suggested some potential solutions to the problem, saying that making vaccinations more readily available in different settings may be needed, as well as improving awareness about the importance of vaccines “in preventing illness, hospitalization and death.”
Read more: People of color face multiple barriers to vaccine access — including ‘skepticism of a system that has treated them poorly’
This new data arrives as some health experts are predicting that the 2022-23 flu season could be more severe than what we’ve experienced in recent years. The CDC reported earlier this month that flu activity “is highest and increasing the most in the southeast and south-central parts of the United States,” adding that this activity “could signal an early start to flu season.”
Another troubling sign: In San Diego, 40% of the students at Patrick Henry High School were recently out sick, with signs pointing to a possible flu outbreak.
The best defense against the flu, of course, is getting a flu shot. The CDC recommends that “everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated each year, ideally by the end of October.” You can find where to get a flu vaccine by visiting vaccines.gov and entering your ZIP code.