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Getting vaccinated in the fall could offer better protection for the coming winter
The Influenza virus, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that typically circulates in the United States from late fall through early spring. And while the mortality rate for the 2018-19 flu season was not as high as the rate during the 2017-18 flu season, this most recent flu season was still record-breaking, lasting 21 weeks – the longest flu season in a decade.
And as a new flu season gets underway, a 2019 Florida State University study shows that Black teens are not getting vaccinated at rates similar to their white and Hispanic peers.The study was based on a sample of 117,000 adolescents from the teen portion of the National Immunization Survey between 2010 and 2016.1 During this period, 24 percent of white adolescents and 22.6 percent of Hispanic adolescents received flu vaccinations compared to 20.5 percent of Black adolescents.
Many factors contribute to the discrepancy, said Dr. Lily Higgins, a market chief medical officer for AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other health care solutions for those most in need. Among them are misinformation, a lack of trust with medical professionals and a lack of insurance. However, the flu vaccination is the best protection against the flu, Dr. Higgins added.
“The vaccination is the best way for anyone to guard against the flu, especially children and teens,” said Dr. Higgins, who is also a board-certified pediatrician. “Unfortunately, the flu can cause devastating health complications, including death, so it’s very important that we all take whatever steps are necessary to be as safe and healthy as possible. And getting vaccinated is an easy and quick way to do that.”
Dr. Higgins believes that healthcare professionals must figure out how to best educate patients and the public at large about the flu vaccination, being careful to embrace cultural competencies that help best treat patients.
“Many health care professionals are working very diligently to establish trust with patients and help debunk the misperceptions that are often associated with the flu vaccination. But, it’s clear that more can be done to ensure that the disparities between those getting vaccinated and those who do not can be properly addressed and eliminated.”
Anyone can get the flu, but certain groups are at higher risk for getting serious flu-related complications. According to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages 0-17 made up the largest block at 9.3 percent with adults ages 18-64 making up 8.8 percent. Adults 65 and over accounted for 3.9 percent of getting the flu infection.2 And with the flu season generally picking up between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and becoming very active between January and March, it’s recommended that people get vaccinated in October.
According to a recent report released by the CDC, there were up to 43 million people with flu illnesses and 20 million flu-related medical visits between Oct. 1, 2018 and May 4, 2019.3 During that same period, the CDC estimates that flu-related illnesses led to nearly 650,000 hospitalizations and up to 61,000 deaths.
“It’s crucial for primary care physicians to help educate their patients on the necessity for people, especially those from the most vulnerable groups, to get vaccinated,” said Higgins, adding that people can play a major role in helping others avoid the flu simply by getting themselves and their loved ones vaccinated. “The vaccination isn’t 100 percent effective, but it can be a great weapon in fighting the spread of the illness and that’s really what matters most.”
In addition to getting vaccinated, health care professionals encourage the following steps to help prevent the flu:
About AmeriHealth Caritas
AmeriHealth Caritas is part of the Independence Health Group in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. AmeriHealth Caritas is one of the nation’s leaders in health care solutions for those most in need. Operating in 11 states and the District of Columbia, AmeriHealth Caritas serves approximately 5.1 million Medicaid, Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) members through its integrated managed care products, pharmaceutical benefit management and specialty pharmacy services, behavioral health services, and other administrative services. Headquartered in Philadelphia, AmeriHealth Caritas is a mission-driven organization with more than 35 years of experience serving low-income and chronically ill populations. For more information, visit www.amerihealthcaritas.com.
1 - https://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/black-teens-less-likely-to-get-flu-shots-than-whites-hispanics
2 - https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm
3 - https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm
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