Fighting for the Flu Shot: Addressing health inequities in flu vaccine uptake
By Dr. Nancy Yoon
Dr. Nancy Yoon is the Chief Medical Officer at the Springfield Greene County Health Department. Dr. Yoon received her medical degree and did her residency (Internal Medicine) and fellowship training (Endocrinology) at Indiana University, and received her Masters of Public Health from George Washington University. Dr. Yoon provides medical oversight of the clinical services of the Health Department. Dr. Yoon also participates in administrative planning of community health programs, collaborates with community partners, and works with the Health Department’s communications team to provide education and guidance on a variety of health topics.
A few months ago, Healthy Ozarks released a blog about what the 2022–23 flu season may look like and how to be prepared for it. One of the most important steps in prepping for the flu season mentioned in the blog was to get your flu vaccine.
Every year, millions of us go to the nearest pharmacy, clinic, or doctor’s office to roll up our sleeve and get the influenza vaccine to help prevent us from getting severely ill or hospitalized from the virus.
For many others, the process of getting a flu vaccine can be much more challenging. Especially for those in rural areas and/or some people in racial or ethnic minority groups.
These challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include lack of access to health care and insurance, missed opportunities to vaccinate, and misinformation and mistrust.
Last flu season, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Black adults received a flu vaccine at lower rates compared to White adults.
Additionally, adults with insurance, a healthcare provider, and a medical checkup in the previous year were more likely to get a flu vaccine than those who did not. Further, CDC data tells us that Hispanic adults were less likely to have insurance, a healthcare provider, and a checkup in the past year. AI/AN adults, in addition to other adults of other races, were less likely to have a healthcare provider and a checkup in the previous year.
This lack of healthcare access puts some people of racial or ethnic minority groups in a vulnerable position for the flu season.
Getting a flu vaccine can make symptoms less severe and reduce the risk of being hospitalized.
Compared to white adults, flu hospitalization rates are 80% higher among Black adults, 30% higher among American Indian/Alaska Native adults, and 20% higher among Hispanic adults.
One of the ways we can help improve flu vaccination numbers among these populations is to promote community-based vaccination. Over the last few months, Springfield-Greene County Health has been offering flu vaccination opportunities at its COVID-19 outreach clinics, which target neighborhoods across Greene County. In doing so, we have been able to help provide easier access to flu vaccines which can help save the lives of our community members.
Additionally, the Health Department has launched an online vaccine map which allows people to find the closest vaccination clinic to them. Everyone who is 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine every season (with rare exceptions). Getting a vaccination is particularly important for people who are at a higher risk of serious complications from influenza. You can also get your flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.
Although flu season is well underway, it’s not too late to get your flu vaccine. If you have any questions about flu vaccines or are having difficulty finding a flu vaccine clinic closest to you, visit vaccine417.com or call 417–874–1211.