Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by various viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can even lead to death. Flu season started earlier than usual this season, and it has been joined by RSV and ongoing COVID-19 to form the “tridemic.”
We know that getting the flu vaccine is the best defense against getting the flu; and even if a vaccinated person does contract the flu, the vaccine can significantly reduce symptoms. However not every eligible person is getting vaccinated, especially in communities of color.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that inequities in access to the flu vaccine and misinformation about the vaccine can contribute to lower vaccination rates in minority communities.
With a vaccination rate of only 43% during the 2021–2022 flu season, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native adults were more likely to get the flu and more likely to be hospitalized due to the flu. In fact, when the CDC examined hospitalizations caused by the flu, hospitalization rates were 80 percent higher among Black adults than white adults.
Improving the rate of flu vaccines in communities of color starts with building trust, providing culturally appropriate information, and increasing access to the vaccine. Some steps healthcare providers and other organizations can take include:
Create community-based vaccine education and access
Use data and community knowledge to help identify trusted community organizations that can connect your healthcare facility with people who need the flu vaccine. This might include the local YMCA, public library, business collaborative, houses of worship, holiday marketplaces, other healthcare providers, or even a youth sports program.
Partner with these organizations to increase access to vaccines and to provide education about the benefits of the vaccine. Be available at their events or even hold a pop-up vaccination clinic at their site. Become agile enough to go where the people are and be prepared to answer questions and provide information and education to those who are not sure if they wish to be vaccinated.
Use culturally responsive messages and trusted messengers
When it comes to vaccines, the adage that says, “The medium is the message,” holds true. Who, where, how—the mediums of the vaccine message—matter greatly because people are more inclined to act on information from a trusted source. To that end, the CDC recommends incorporating national vaccination campaigns that are tailored to people of color to help build confidence in vaccines and address barriers to getting vaccines.
The CDC reports that, “The Ad Council, American Medical Association, and CDC have supported campaigns tailored to reach Black and Hispanic audiences. These campaigns feature culturally responsive content shared through communication channels that are commonly used and trusted. After two years, concerns about flu vaccine risks or side effects decreased from 43% to 33% among Black adults and from 41% to 32% among Hispanic adults. These successes show that tailored messages, when delivered through frequently used and trusted channels, can increase awareness, and decrease fears.”
Discuss the need for the flu vaccination
Whenever a provider sees a patient, the CDC recommends making a strong recommendation that all eligible patients receive the flu vaccination. If your patient has not, try to determine barriers. Is it fear, lack of access, misinformation, or something else preventing action? Provide information and support to encourage vaccination.
Learn more about ECRI here.