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Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native adults more likely to be hospitalized for flu and less likely to be vaccinated, CDC report finds

<i>Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>
AFP via Getty Images
Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images

By Carma Hassan, CNN

Black, American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic adults are more likely than their White peers to be hospitalized for the flu, but less likely to be vaccinated against it, a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds.

The CDC Vital Signs report released Tuesday finds that Black, AI/AN and Hispanic adults were 1.2 to 1.8 times more likely to be hospitalized than White adults over the past 13 flu seasons.

They were also less likely to be vaccinated than their White counterparts due to “distrust of the medical system, misperceptions about vaccine safety, and higher levels of concern about side effects,” researchers wrote in the report.

“Vaccination is the best defense we have against the worst outcomes of getting the flu,” CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Debra Houry told reporters on Tuesday. “During my time as an ER doc, and throughout my work at CDC, I’ve seen that the reasons behind inequities and vaccination coverage for people from some racial and ethnic minority groups are systemic and a result of many factors. I’ve also seen the impact of vaccination can have to reduce the impact illnesses like flu can have on our society.”

During the 2021-2022 flu season, 54% of White adults were vaccinated, compared with 42% of Black adults, 41% of American Indian and Alaska Native adults, and 38% of Hispanic adults, said Dr. Carla Black, a CDC Immunization Services Division epidemiologist.

These groups also had more severe outcomes from the flu, Black said.

“This report adds to the body of evidence that shows people from certain racial and ethnic minority groups have more severe outcomes at higher rates than White adults,” Black said. “The report shows that Black, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaskan Native adults were hospitalized with flu at greater rates than White adults during most seasons from 2009 to 2022. Hospitalization rates were nearly 80% higher among Black adults, 30% higher among American Indian and Alaskan Native adults and 20% higher among Hispanic adults.”

Black also said the data shows that health care access contributes to disparities in vaccination.

“Last flu season, we found that adults with insurance, those with a health care provider and those with a medical checkup in the past year were more likely to get a flu vaccine than those without at least one of the facilitators to health care. Hispanic adults were less likely to have health insurance. Further, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaskan Native and adults of other races were less likely to have a health care provider and a checkup in the past year,” she said.

In the report, researchers urged building trust, increasing access to vaccination services and combatting misinformation in order to increase vaccination coverage.

The CDC has teamed up with community organizations to host town halls and pop-up vaccination clinics through its CDC’s Partnering for Vaccine Equity program, Houry said.

“We raise awareness and provide accurate information about the importance of flu vaccination and address misinformation In the future,” she said.

The agency also uses targeted national vaccination campaigns to reach Black and Hispanic audiences.

“We have many of the tools we need to address inequities and flu vaccination coverage and outcomes. However, we must acknowledge that inequities in access to care continue to exist. To improve vaccine uptake, we must address the root causes of these ongoing disparities,” Houry said.

The report comes as an early increase in seasonal flu activity has been reported in most of the United States, with the nation’s Southeast and south-central areas reporting the highest levels of flu, according to the CDC. While current influenza activity is still low overall, the CDC says activity is increasing in most of the country.

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