African Americans Less Likely Than Whites to be Vaccinated Against Influenza Each Year

BETHESDA, Md. -- The following release was issued today by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases:

Fewer than half of African Americans over the age of 65 are vaccinated against influenza each year as compared to whites, placing thousands of older African Americans at increased risk for influenza-related hospitalizations and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Despite recommendations for annual influenza vaccination, the CDC's 2000 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) shows only 48 percent of African American adults aged 65 years and older are routinely immunized against influenza compared to 67 percent of whites.

As for childhood vaccination, another study shows only 25 percent of children in the U.S with chronic diseases, including African Americans, receive a flu shot annually.

"African Americans have to make sure we ask for our annual flu shot every year and take responsibility for our health and our family's well-being," said Bonnie M. Word, MD, speaking on behalf of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and National Medical Association (NMA), a nationwide organization of African American physicians.

"I encourage all African Americans to become more proactive in consulting their physicians and seeking preventive health care, including an annual flu shot, especially those of us who are elderly and other adults and children who have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or cancer," Word stressed.

An estimated 20,000 people die and approximately 114,000 are hospitalized from influenza each year, according to data published in the April 12, 2002, issue of the CDC's Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination in October for those at high-risk for developing serious influenza-related complications. Influenza vaccination is also recommended in October for household contacts of high-risk individuals and health care workers who care for high-risk patients and children less than 9 years of age receiving vaccine for the first time. All other groups should seek vaccination in November and December.

October vaccination is recommended for the following high-risk groups at increased risk for complications from influenza:

Persons aged 65 and older

Residents of nursing homes and other facilities housing persons with chronic illnesses

Children and adults with chronic pulmonary disorders, including asthma

Children and adults who have diabetes, heart, kidney or liver disease and certain hemoglobin disorders such as sickle cell disease

Children under 9 years of age who are receiving vaccine for the first time, because they will need a booster dose one month after the initial dose

Persons aged six months to 18 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy

Household contacts of persons at high risk

Pregnant women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the influenza season

All healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient centers and homecare settings

Healthy children aged six to 23 months are encouraged to get vaccinated

The following groups should get vaccinated in November and December:

All healthy persons including healthy persons aged 50 to 64 years

Anyone who hasn't received a flu shot or wants to reduce their risk of contracting influenza

Influenza vaccine is safe and effective. The most common side effect is soreness at the vaccination site that can last up to two days. Some people may have mild fever or feel tired for a day or two after receiving the influenza vaccine. Among people who do become sick with influenza, the illness is milder in vaccine recipients than those who are unvaccinated.

The vaccine is made from killed strains of the viruses predicted to be the main causes of influenza in the coming season. Because the viruses are killed, it is impossible to get influenza from the vaccine. Last year's vaccine will not offer protection in this year's influenza season. The vaccine changes every year to match the prevalent strains, which is why annual vaccination is necessary.

The 2002-2003 influenza vaccine protects against the vaccine virus strains: A/Moscow/10/99 (H3N2)-like, A/New Caledonia/20/99 (H1N1)-like, and B/Hong Kong/330/2001-like strains.

People who should not receive influenza vaccine are those who have had previous reactions to the vaccine or its components, or people who are allergic to eggs (the viruses used in the vaccine are grown in chicken eggs). Persons with acute febrile illness should not be vaccinated until their symptoms disappear or consult their health care provider about receiving influenza vaccination. However, vaccines may be given in the presence of minor illnesses with or without fever, particularly among children with mild respiratory tract infections or allergic rhinitis (hay fever).

For more information about influenza vaccination, consumers should consult their physicians, contact their local public health department or visit the CDC and NFID web sites at http://www.cdc.gov/ and http://www.nfid.org/.

About NFID

Founded in 1973, NFID is a non-profit organization dedicated to public and professional educational programs about, and in support of, research into causes, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.

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