Many African-Americans don't get flu shots because they don't trust the vaccine, while whites are more likely to think the flu is not a big deal, a new study has found.
The study, conducted in part by researchers from the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland, College Park, looked at racial disparities in flu vaccinations.
The researchers found African-Americans worried about the safety of the shot more than the health risks of the flu.
The findings are important as the medical community tries to improve vaccination rates. Fewer than half of Americans get the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just 41 percent of African-Americans get vaccinated, compared with 47 percent of whites.
The study, published in the journal Risk Analysis, included 800 white and 800 African-American participants. Researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of Pittsburgh also participated in the research.
Researcher Sandra Crouse Quinn with the University of Maryland said that many factors contribute to the low vaccination rates among African-Americans, including general distrust of health care and other institutions because of past racism. She suggested doctors could receive better cultural competency training.
Outreach efforts need to focus on educating people about the vaccine and not just the dangers of the flu, the researchers concluded.
"A lot of people have the sense that the flu vaccine itself can be very dangerous," she said. "But it is tested every year. It goes through the whole clinical trial process every year. In that sense it is well-protected."
Doctors with Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States are not surprised by the findings. They noticed long ago the racial disparity in those who get flu shots and are studying the reasons. Earlier this year the health care company offered the vaccination for free at a West Baltimore barbershop in an effort to increase the numbers.
It's important to increase the vaccination rates among African-Americans because they have a higher incidence of other conditions that may make them prone to more severe and complicated flu cases, one Kaiser doctor said.
"If you have any other chronic medical condition, if you get the flu, it is going to be bad news," said Dr. Michael Horberg, executive director for research community benefit and Medicaid for Permanente Medical Group, Kaiser's doctors group. "You're not going to get just a touch of the flu."