Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that flu (influenza) came fast and furious this year, making it a historically bad flu season. In fact, the number of positive flu cases and hospitalizations has not been this high in more than a decade. But what you probably don’t know is that these rates were highest among Black adults and that people of color were hit the hardest by flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black adults are more likely to be hospitalized with flu–and are less likely to get vaccinated against flu than White and Asian adults. During most influenza seasons in the past decade, hospitalization rates among Black adults were approximately 2 times higher than among White adults.
So, if flu hits us so hard, why aren’t we getting vaccinated?
In a 2021 national survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) on Black adult perspectives on flu and COVID-19 vaccines, 42% of Black adults did not plan on getting a flu vaccine during the 2020-2021 flu season, and an additional 11% were unsure. Among the main reasons were fears of getting flu from flu vaccine and potential side effects from the vaccine.
There are many reasons for these disparities in severe flu outcomes and disparities in vaccination rates, including lack of access to healthcare and insurance, missed opportunities to vaccinate, mistrust, and safety concerns.
“We know that there are multiple drivers of these disparities including, but certainly not limited to, unconscious bias, institutional racism, distrust of the healthcare system, and vaccine hesitancy,” said Patricia N. Whitley-Williams, MD, NFID immediate past-president, in a recent NFID blog post. “Despite these hurdles, we must do all we can to drive change.”
Mistrust of vaccines stems directly from historical and ongoing discrimination and racism experienced by Black communities. Vaccine-related mistrust includes distrust of the healthcare system and healthcare professionals (to be equitable), the government (to provide truthful information), and the vaccine itself (to be safe and effective).
But vaccine concerns aside, Black adults and people from certain racial and ethnic minority groups also have higher rates of asthma, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health conditions, all of which increase their risks for serious flu complications. People with heart disease, for example, are 6X more likely to have a heart attack within 7 days of flu infection.
The concerns within the Black community are alarming, but valid. And we know you have questions about flu vaccines, and that is okay. Questions like “Is it safe?”, Should I get it?”, or “Should I wait?” Find answers to these questions and more below.