Health Disparities Persist with Flu Vaccines

October 27, 2019
Briana Contreras

Consumer education essential to put misconceptions of the vaccination to rest.

This year’s flu season is expected to be worse than last year’s reported season by the CDC, and members of HMSEliza team are encouraging those who are less likely to receive a flu vaccination to rethink their decision.

Last year resulted in about 500,000 hospitalizations and 50,000 deaths due to the flu, according representatives of HMS.

Based on recent research collected by the CDC, some of these hospitalizations and deaths are affecting groups of people who do not choose to receive their vaccinations.

The research findings state flu vaccination coverage is lower among African American, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaskan Native adult populations.

These groups are also more impacted by chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, which puts them at a higher risk for serious flu-related health complications or death, the research says.

According to HMS’ Ellen Harrison, senior vice president of market strategy, and Mara Jimenez, manager of health engagement design and Hispanic communications, the reasoning behind these populations not receiving their flu vaccinations is because of their “misconceptions” of the vaccination.

Harrison and Jimenez say many misconceptions exist in the Spanish-speaking community.

Related: What You Need to Know About the Vaccine Pipeline

Through their member outreach and engagement work with health plans, HMS contacted more than 5 million consumers to encourage flu vaccination over the course of three years. Within these engagements, HMS was able to survey the same consumer population to find out why misconceptions such as “the flu vaccine will give me the flu,” and “I’m healthy I don’t need to get vaccinated,” exist in the Spanish-speaking community.

Survey results included: 

  • 52% of Spanish-speaking respondents and 30% of English-speaking respondents said they didn’t plan to get the flu shot because they didn’t think it was effective.

  • 50% of Spanish-speaking respondents and 39% of English-speaking respondents believe the flu vaccine will cause them to get the flu.

  • 62% of Spanish-speaking respondents and 50% of English-speaking respondents expressed a concern with the safety of the flu vaccine.

  • 24% of Spanish-speaking respondents and 15% of English-speaking respondents said the cost of the flu vaccine was prohibitive.

Like the populations reported by the CDC and others who don’t choose to get vaccinated, Spanish-speaking people develop most of their misconceptions because they aren’t as educated on the topic.

However, their language barriers are a major factor that affect them negatively, Jimenez says.

“What we find is that English is not a first language (for those less likely to get their flu vaccination),” says Harrison. “There are a number of misconceptions across cultures on what the flu is and all about vaccinations.”

Jimenez says some Spanish-speaking individuals see the flu as a common cold.

“We have to make sure the message of the flu in Spanish (and other languages) is shared how it is in English,” Jimenez says. “We want to make sure (those in the healthcare industry) are using the right words, the right education and support so everyone sees a flu shot is positive and not negative.”

Another factor that plays into these particular groups not receiving their vaccinations prior to flu season is due to them coming from a lower income population where they receive less literacy on the issue, or they fear the shot is too expensive.

Harrison says it’s possible for anyone to receive a flu shot and learn more about the subject and its benefits.

Flu shots are offered across the nation in locations such as schools, local stores, and other organizations for little to no cost at all, she adds.

“We are helping folks seek the benefits by offering outreaches focused on health literacy, providing the best information and adapting it culturally, giving them an avenue to ask questions and see whether they are interested or not,” Harrison says. “Physicians are (also) encouraging patients to get them and educating them about what to do and what’s prevented.”

Jimenez and Harrison stress receiving a flu vaccination is important for entire population because all are at risk. The most vulnerable are those who aren’t seeking the vaccination, those who have illnesses and most importantly, children.

Briana Contreras is associate editor of Managed Healthcare Executive.