Unprotected Old Folks

Many elderly Spanish-speakers are not immunized

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) During both the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic and the whooping cough outbreak in California, elderly Hispanics had high rates of infection. New research suggests this might be due to low vaccination rates and language.

Using data from 244,618 individuals aged 65 and older, Amelia Haviland, PhD, of the RAND Corp., and colleagues compared rates of immunization for pneumonia and seasonal flu between elderly Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. They also differentiated between Hispanics who preferred to speak English and those who preferred Spanish.

They found that Hispanics in both groups (those who preferred English and who preferred Spanish) were less likely to be immunized for the flu and pneumonia compared to whites. When it came to immunization for pneumonia, 56 percent of those who preferred speaking English and 40 percent of the Spanish-preferred group were immunized versus 74 percent of whites. The disparities were less but still significant for influenza vaccination (68 percent and 64 percent versus 76 percent).

The researchers also found that differences in flu shot rates were greater for Spanish-speaking people in areas where residents do not speak English well. Disparities were also higher in "new destination" areas, or places without a historical Hispanic population.

After adjusting for factors such as income, health and education, these disparities lessened. However, they remained significant, the authors say.

In light of these findings, the authors conclude that physicians and policymakers can help fix the problem by focusing on the cultural and linguistic obstacles keeping Hispanic seniors from becoming immunized.

People aged 65 and older face an increased risk of complications from influenza compared to younger individuals. As such, most healthcare professionals recommend that seniors get a yearly flu shot. The results of this new study show that large portions of the elderly population are not receiving this message. The study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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Review Date: 
January 31, 2011
Last Updated:
October 8, 2012