2023 Flu Season Patients

Low Flu Vaccination Rate Among Black Adults: Turning the Tide

Written by Anthony Emecheta

Flu can cause serious complications leading to hospitalization—or death. Thankfully, flu vaccines help to prevent the worst outcomes when the person is infected. However, the rate of flu vaccine uptake among Black communities has remained low.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s 2022 report titled “Inequalities in Flu Vaccine Uptake”, between 140,000 and 710,000 people were hospitalized annually with flu from 2010 to 2020. The report highlighted that some racial minority groups had the highest flu hospitalization rate. Black adults were at the top of that list with an 80% hospitalization rate.

The reason for this is not farfetched. Flu vaccine coverage has remained consistently low among Black adults when compared to white adults. During the 2021 to 2022 flu season, the coverage was 42% for Black adults and 54% for White adults.

As dire as COVID-19 was, it still did not even the vaccine disparity between Black adults and Whites. Some may even argue that it made it worse. But, if flu vaccines are so important, particularly during the flu season, why are Black adults reluctant to get flu shots and how can the tide be turned?

Are Black adults deliberately avoiding flu shots? Certainly not the case. There are genuine factors that are likely in the way of Black adults getting vaccinated against the flu. Below are the most critical issues and how changing the vaccination approach can move the needle in the disproportionate impact of flu on Black adults.

Vaccine cost, availability, and lower Black insurance rate

The low vaccine uptake among Black adults may partly reflect the widespread lack of health insurance coverage among Black communities and low availability of the vaccines. The seasonal flu vaccine is a preventive care that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is meant to be available at no added costs for those with insurance.

Since seasonal flu vaccines are primarily administered through private providers or distributors, uninsured people are expected to pay out-of-pocket if there are no health centers or clinics giving the shots for free.

Without insurance, a flu shot costs between $20 and $85. The combination of higher unemployment and underemployment makes it harder for adult Blacks to pay for the vaccines. So, how can the government turn the tide?

1. Expanded vaccine subsidy program

Studies have shown that the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program which is federally funded has been the secret to higher vaccination rates among children across all races and ethnicities. Some of those children would likely not have gotten life-saving vaccines without federal intervention.

Extending a similar gesture to adults will most likely improve vaccine uptake among Black adults. Alternatively, subsidizing flu vaccines as well as tackling the employment disparities among Black communities will also help to change the statistics.

2. Make vaccines available in nontraditional places

Another approach towards improving vaccine uptake among Black adults should be making the vaccines available in nontraditional places like places of worship, the workplace, or recreational parks where Black adults usually converge in large numbers.

For example, in Nigeria, vaccines are usually taken to churches and markets for distribution. In other words, the vaccines are taken to those who need them rather than waiting for them to come to health centers and clinics.

Distrust and vague documentation

Studies have shown that safety concerns, distrust, and discrimination are factors that also contribute to vaccine disparity among Black adults. Almost every new vaccine springs a new conspiracy. For example, the anti-vax conspiracy during the COVID-19 pandemic led to hesitation and boycott of the vaccines.

Vague and often bogus documentation also make it harder for Black people to trust vaccines. A study published in Biosecur Bioterror by Quinn et al. showed that people are averse to new vaccines that have not been fully approved. Black people showed the highest level of worry. So, how can this be changed?

1. Education

One of the strategies that University of Pittsburg researchers used to convince Black Allegheny County residents to take the annual flu shot emphasized how taking the shot doesn’t only protect the person but also their friends and family members. “Do it for your grandmother… granddaughter…the person next door,” advised Krissy Moehling Geffel, the epidemiologist who led the study.

The second strategy used by the researchers was to educate the residents about the flu vaccine including the component, how it works, and the expected side effects. Black people will more likely get flu shots if they have the right information available to them.

2. Sensitization should be championed by someone trusted by the community

We are more willing to listen if the person championing the campaign is one of us. In addition to that, vaccine documentation should be made as simple and easy to read and understand as possible.

Dismantling the misconception about flu vaccine and achieving herd immunity is a collective effort that will help Black adults to harvest health, not illness. Achieving herd immunity will protect not only those who took the vaccine but also those who genuinely couldn’t.

Join the crusade. Download and share our free flu vaccine posters: 

If you are a caregiver, please download our free Caregiver Flu-Free Zone Poster.

Also, download a copy of our Shield Our Roots 2023 Flu Vaccine Poster for your workplace.

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About the author

Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta holds a master’s degree in microbiology. He is a passionate educator and particularly an advocate of racial equality. He strongly believes the world will be a better place if we all see ourselves as humans first before anything else.

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