Race, regular exams influence elderly vaccination rates

June 30, 2004

Older Americans are less likely to get an annual flu vaccination if they are black or Hispanic or do not receive regular medical checkups, according to a new report in the American Journal of Health Behavior.

Only 28 percent of older black or Hispanic people who did not get a medical exam in the last year had a current flu vaccination, according to Stephenie Lemon, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and colleagues.

Married white people age 75 and older who'd had a recent checkup were mostly likely to get vaccinated, with 80 percent receiving their flu shot within the past year.

Although it is becoming more common to get a flu shot at a drugstore, shopping mall or community center, the survey suggests "only modest success of these community-based outreach efforts," Lemon says.

Almost half of those surveyed who had not had a recent checkup also said that they had received a flu vaccination, but only 23 percent of these people got their vaccination at a nonmedical facility. Black and Hispanic elderly people were less likely than white people to get flu shots at these facilities.

"Persons who do not have regular checkups are least likely to receive vaccinations," Lemon says.

The researchers say the poor vaccination record among older black and Hispanic Americans may be partly due to reduced access to health care or worse general health among these populations.

Even when black and Hispanic patients go in for checkups, "providers may be less likely to address vaccination during medical visits in favor of addressing more pertinent health issues," Lemon says.

The study included 30,668 participants nationwide who answered questions in a health behavior telephone survey. Participants were asked if they received a flu vaccination within the past year. Prevention guidelines recommend a yearly flu vaccination for all people age 65 and older.

Flu and its complications are the fifth-leading cause of death among the elderly in the United States.
For more information:
Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or www.hbns.org.

Interviews: Contact Stephenie Lemon at 508-856-4098 or Stephenie.Lemon@umassmed.edu.

American Journal of Health Behavior: Visit www.ajhb.org or eglover@hsc.wvu.edu.

Center for Advancing Health

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