Less than half of African-American seniors get influenza vaccinations. With adamant fear in their eyes, we often hear the complaint that the shot causes the flu (influenza). Low vaccination rates contribute to annual influenza deaths among 44,000 Americans that are 65 and older. This is more than six times higher than flu-related deaths in all other age groups.
Health complications that make people vulnerable to debilitating flu symptoms include chronic lung disease, cancer, heart disease, immunosuppression through HIV or chemotherapy, metabolic disorders, and extreme obesity. Many of these conditions are prevalent among seniors. We need to address personal fears and biases to improve patients’ outcomes.
A variety of rationales fuel the inoculation aversion. Some people mistakenly feel that childhood vaccinations provide immunity from the flu throughout life. They do not. Each individual needs new inoculations against influenza strains as they turn up. Many people recount that a they came down with the flu after a past vaccination.
Today’s shots are safer than they were decades ago. Side effects can include soreness at the point on injection, malaise, fatigue and rare fevers. You are vulnerable to a flu virus shortly before the vaccine or during the 10 to 14 day period your immune system builds immunity from the flu vaccine. But this does not mean the flu shot causes the flu.
Some elders vividly cite the 1932–72 Tuskegee syphilis studies of African-American men. In 1932, when the study began, available treatments were toxic with limited effectiveness. The study aimed to determine if patients were better off without remedies. By 1947, penicillin became a popular and effective cure for the disease. But the researchers did not offer the remedy to study participants. Many men died of syphilis. Wives contracted it from husbands, and children were born with congenital syphilis. This indelible stain on U.S. history remains a source of government mistrust over vaccines among ethnic minorities. Many minorities ruminate over the following questions:
- Will the flu shot give me the flu?
- Will a vaccine give me polio?
- Does a vaccine cause autism?
- Does a vaccine cause infertility?
Researchers explain in a December 2016 research article: “This distrust extended into conspiracy theories including beliefs that the government was experimenting on minorities as ‘guinea pigs,’ that the vaccines were being diluted and distributed in black communities, or that vaccines were a form of population control” through injection with live virus. The actual recombinant flu vaccines do not use the flu virus or chicken eggs in the manufacturing process. They stimulate your immune system to create antibodies and to fight off the actual virus itself. Flu vaccines prevent millions of illnesses, flu-related doctors visits, and complications each year.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD. One vaccine ingredient that has been studied specifically is thimerosal, trace amounts of a mercury-based preservative used to prevent contamination of multidose vials of vaccines. Research shows that thimerosal does not cause ASD. Thimerosal-free flu vaccine alternatives are also available.
Getting vaccinated before pregnancy against rubella can prevent the serious consequences of this infection. A flu infection can affect both mother and child. If a mother contracts inflenza during pregnancy, miscarriage or premature labor is possible.
A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation of 1,676 Americans reveals one third of Blacks say they will get COVID-19 vaccine when available. Another 39% will wait to see how it’s effect on other people.
Popular conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 vaccines include false claims that people will be injected with microchips or that human DNA will be negatively altered. Black Americans are dying of COVID-19 disease at much higher rates than other Americans in some major cities. Common symptoms of COVID-19 resemble flu symptoms. What happens when an individual contracts both viruses? Patients with this dual assault on their respiratory systems have a difficult recovery. Vaccination reticence can easily migrate to mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines, extending the pandemic for many months.
No vaccine is 100 percent effective. With the best guesses of popular yearly strains, flu vaccines aim for 60 to 70 percent efficacy. Scientists are still learning about COVID-19 but so far efficacy may be higher after multiple doses. With full transparency, some patients will feel uncomfortable for a day or two following the second vaccination. This is a positive indication that the immune system is working properly. With hundreds of thousands of deaths in United States alone, the ability to prevent half of those cases is worth considering vaccination, even with its potential side effects. Other vaccines in clinical trials require only one dose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Protection from COVID-19 is critically important because for some individuals, it can cause severe illness or death. People of color might view this as an important step in the preservation of a diverse heritage. It is also worth noting that one of the scientists at the forefront of the vaccine’s development is a Black woman.
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- African-American seniors more wary of flu shots. futurity.org
- Debunking flu shot myths while skeptic and black. fredericknewspost.com
- Quinn SC, Jamison A, An J, Freimuth VS, Hancock GR, Musa D. Breaking down the monolith: Understanding flu vaccine uptake among African Americans. SSM Popul Health. 2017;4:25-36. Published 2017 Nov 14. doi:10.1016/j.ssmph.2017.11.003
- Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger, United States. cdc.gov
- 'Tuskegee always looms in our minds': Some fear black Americans, hardest hit by coronavirus, may not get vaccine. usatoday.com
- Recombinant Influenza (Flu) Vaccine. cdc.gov
- Autism and Vaccines. cdc.gov
- Are Vaccinations a Good Idea If I'm Trying to Get Pregnant? reproductivefacts.org
- Vaccine rumours debunked: Microchips, 'altered DNA' and more. bbc.com
- Understanding How COVID–19 Vaccines Work. cdc.gov
- Fauci asks Americans to be 'part of the solution' and get vaccinated as states prepare for distribution. cnn.com
- Fauci wants people to know that one of lead scientists who developed the Covid-19 vaccine is a Black woman. cnn.com