What Does Race Have To Do With Flu Shots?

Ethnic differences between flu vaccination rates

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Who is getting the message about getting the flu shot every year? A new study finds that in some cases, a racial line can be drawn between who gets vaccinated and who doesn't.

Canadian researchers found significant differences between vaccination rates across 12 ethnicities.

They discovered that white and black Canadians were the least likely to get the flu vaccine.

"Get vaccinated for flu every year."

The study was conducted by the Statistics Canada Research Data Centre and Public Health Ontario. Dr. Jeffrey Kwong was the principal investigator on the study.

Scientists study how many people are getting vaccinated in order to design better public health campaigns to promote the flu shot. The vaccine, which has to be renewed yearly, protects patients against the three most common strains of flu for that year.

Usually, scientists look at the age and sex of people who are or aren't getting vaccinated. But this research group decided to look at ethnicity, because barriers to information and misunderstanding can exist on a cultural level.

Previous studies done in the United States have shown disparities in vaccination rates between different ethnic or racial groups. In the US, Hispanic people are less likely to be vaccinated than whites.

In Canada, the racial picture is a bit different. The largest immigrant group is Asian. The rest of the demographic makeup includes blacks, whites, Middle Eastern, and native or aboriginal Canadians.

The researchers looked at 437,488 people aged 12 and older surveyed during the 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009 cycles of the Canadian Community Health Survey.

What they found was that Canadians of Asian origins had higher vaccination rates than white or black Canadians.

Filipinos had the highest rates, with 41 percent of the surveyed population vaccinated. Japanese followed with 38 percent, and Chinese with 35 percent.

Meanwhile, 32 percent of whites were vaccinated, and 27 percent of black Canadians got the shot.

In a commentary on the study, Dr. Bradford Gessner suggested that the reason for the ethnic differences relies largely on local context. “This may include access to vaccination programs, attitudes of local clinicians, access to the Internet, the importance of the antivaccine movement, media reporting and bias, actual or perceived prevalence of disease in a population, and assessment of individual risk.”

At the same time, he stated that vaccination coverage is relatively low across all ethnic groups.

The study authors wrote in their paper that it's important for public health experts to work with healthcare providers, patients, and community organization to understand the local context, to create more effective campaigns.

The research was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in September 2012.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 6, 2012
Last Updated:
October 5, 2012