Report Examines How to Increase Flu Vaccination Rates

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WASHINGTON, DC—A report released last month by a nonprofit organization calls for increased education efforts to encourage flu vaccination, especially among minority groups.

USM_12-10_flu-graph.jpgWhile flu vaccination rates reached historical highs last flu season during the pandemic, both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccination rates were lower for African Americans and Hispanics than for whites, according to the report released by the Trust for American’s Health (TFAH).

The report, Fighting Flu Fatigue, also stated that H1N1 flu hospitalization rates for African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaska Natives were nearly two to one higher than rates for whites during the 2009-2010 flu season.

Litjen Tan, MS, PhD, director of Medicine and Public Health for the American Medical Association, said that improving and increasing the amount of education regarding the need for vaccination, particularly to minority groups, is important in the current flu season. “We must address negative beliefs and misinformation and we have to work with communities in culturally appropriate and positive ways.”

Tan said it is also important to increase the venues where flu vaccination is offered in order to reach minorities, such as by offering it at schools and day care facilities. In addition, community organizations and faith-based organizations are venues that could be effectively mobilized to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Increasing Flu Vaccination

Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, who presented the report’s findings, said that there is currently an opportunity to build on the momentum of last season’s pandemic flu response. “Following the H1N1 pandemic, we could take two different paths. We could go back to a national complacency around the flu or we could build on the momentum of the pandemic response efforts to help spare millions of Americans from suffering yearly from the flu.”

Encouraging more Americans to get vaccinated will be a “challenge and require a significant education effort,” according to the report. “An October 2010 public opinion survey from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) found that 43% of Americans do not plan to get a flu shot this year,” the report noted.

The report stated that the federal government should consider leveraging a small portion of the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was created by health reform, for an ongoing, nationwide vaccine acceptance campaign to inform Americans of the need for everyone to be vaccinated against seasonal influenza.

The report also suggested that in order to be effective in reaching diverse audiences, information must be provided through many outlets beyond the Internet, such as radio and racial and ethnic publications and television, and in languages other than English. “Materials must be tailored to specific cultural perspectives. Communications should be from a trusted source, such as religious and community leaders. Translations also need to be idiomatic rather than word-for-word.”

One important factor that hampered the H1N1 response last year was funding, Levi said. “Even in the middle of the outbreak, budget cuts resulted in the loss of more than 23,000 jobs in local health departments, mandatory furloughs, and shortened work weeks for 13,000 local health departments.”

The report was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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