Mississippi Department of Health Launches its Immunization Initiative


JACKSON, Miss. -- The Mississippi Racial and Ethnic Adult Disparities in Immunization Initiative (READII) is focusing on increasing flu and pneumonia immunization rates among African Americans age 65 and older. READII hopes to increase immunization rates by developing educational activities and increasing access to immunization services. READIIs target areas include Hinds County and 18 rural Delta counties.


On Aug. 31, the READII project kicked off this years campaign to increase awareness with a faith-based summit at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Conference Center in the Jackson Medical Mall in Jackson, Miss. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Acting Director of the Office of Minority Health Dr. Garth Graham participated in the summit, along with State Health Officer Dr. Brian Amy and representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who discussed the importance of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in flu and pneumonia vaccination coverage rates among African American seniors. More than 300 Mississippians representing 19 counties were expected to attend this event.


The Mississippi State Department of Health is taking a leadership role in this effort. Partners include local health departments, community organizations and providers in the following 19 Mississippi counties: Bolivar, Coahoma, Grenada, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, LeFlore, Tunica, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Yalobusha, Yazoo, Warren and Washington.


Health officials recommend anyone 65 years of age or older get an influenza vaccination in October or November. Pneumonia shots can be given year-round.


These two vaccines are recommended for all persons age 65 or older, says State Health Officer Dr. Brian Amy. This group has an increased risk of complications from the flu, and an increased risk of illness from pneumonia bacteria.


According to the CDC, African-Americans aged 65 or older are less likely to receive the influenza vaccine than whites in the same age group. In Mississippi in 2002, 67 percent of whites reported they had received a flu vaccine in the past 12 months, but only 51 percent of older African-Americans had been vaccinated, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey regarding health behaviors.


Health officials say it is especially important for seniors in long-term care facilities to receive annual flu shots because the environment facilitates the rapid spread of influenza and pneumonia. Among nursing home residents, flu shots can reduce the risk of hospitalization and pneumonia by about 50 to 60 percent and the risk of death by about 80 percent.


More than  700 Mississippians died of flu and pneumonia in 2003. Most who die are over 65 years of age. However, young children less than two years old are just as likely as those over 65 to go to the hospital because of the flu.


We need to continue to inform the public that influenza is a serious disease that can be easily passed along to others. We are hopeful that through this effort we will increase awareness about the importance of getting a flu vaccine each year, says Graham. We know that one of the barriers to getting a vaccination is the belief by some people that people can get the flu from a flu shot. This is not the case; you cant get the flu from the flu shot.


Health officials say it is important to be prepared when flu season begins in October. The vaccine is expected to be available at that time, and again, pneumonia vaccinations are available year round.


Source: Mississippi State Department of Health


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