More than half skip flu shots, missing opportunity for prevention
A new report by AARP’s Public Policy Institute highlights the impact of low vaccination rates for influenza and pneumonia among older black and Hispanic populations. Rates for these groups lag significantly behind whites.
Together, influenza and pneumonia represent the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, despite the availability of annual flu shots and the one-time pneumococcal vaccination.
“It’s tragic that America loses so many lives each year to preventable diseases,” said AARP Board Member Jacob Lozada.
“Even more alarming are the drastic ethnic and racial disparities that exist in immunization rates. With so much riding on our health, there is no excuse not to get vaccinated.” Lozada noted that both flu and pneumonia vaccination are available at no cost to people on Medicare.
The most recent data show two-thirds of white adults age 65 and older reported receiving the flu vaccine in 2006. In the same year, less than half of blacks (47%) and Hispanics (45%) received the flu vaccine. The disparity is even greater for pneumococcal vaccine, with 62 percent of older whites receiving the vaccine, compared to only 36 percent of blacks and 33 percent of Hispanics.
New York City’s vaccination rates among African Americans and Hispanics are similar to the national figures. According to the New York City 2006 Community Health Survey (CHS), 46.7 percent of African Americans and 54.2 percent of Hispanics age 65 and older reported receiving the flu vaccination in the past year, compared to 61.6 percent of their white counterparts. In the same year, 42.9 percent of African Americans and 34.4 percent of Hispanics age 65 and older reported having ever received a vaccine for pneumonia, compared with 54.3 of whites in the same age group.
The study notes that these immunization disparities result in hospitalizations and deaths that would otherwise have been preventable.
A 2007 study in the journal Preventive Medicine estimated that if flu immunizations rates were equal for all races, 1,880 deaths could be prevented every year. The same study found if all racial groups achieved the national Healthy People 2010 goal of 90 percent flu vaccination, 15,590 deaths could be prevented annually.
Those age 65 and older are especially susceptible to complications associated with the flu and pneumonia because both diseases exacerbate underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma. The flu is responsible for approximately 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S.
“We know that minority groups often experience more medical consequences from influenza. One example is Hispanics 65 years of age and older often suffer from more chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, which makes them more susceptible to flu-related complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death,” said Dr. Jeanne Santoli of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
AARP’s Lozada added: “Wellness and prevention are critical parts of an effective health care system. We can all do more to protect ourselves and keep our loved ones healthy, and vaccinations are one of the best ways to stop the spread of disease.”
AARP has joined with the CDC, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and others in the medical community to urge every 50-plus American to get a flu shot and to urge those age 65 and older to also get a pneumococcal vaccination. For information on where to find a flu shot clinic near you, visit http://www.aarp.org/flu or call 1-800-OUR-AARP (1-888-687-2277).
AARP’s report on immunization disparities is available at: http://www.aarp.org/research/medicare/coverage/i12_flu.html.
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