Individuals of coloration are at greater threat of being hospitalized, in response to the CDC
People of color are far more likely to be hospitalized with the flu than white Americans, according to a large multi-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC study, released Tuesday, examined adult flu hospitalizations from 2009 through last year using data from its flu surveillance network, which includes more than 70 counties in 14 states.
According to CDC data, hospital admissions were 80% higher among black adults than white adults, 30% higher among Native Americans, and 20% higher among Hispanics.
Vaccination rates were lower among blacks than white adults. During last year’s flu season, immunization coverage was 54% among white adults, compared to 38% among Hispanics, 41% among Native Americans, and 42% among black adults.
CDC officials, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said lower vaccination rates among people of color are due to poorer access to health care, distrust of doctors and the government due to historical discrimination, and missed opportunities to immunize people when they go to the doctor.
People of color also often face poorer and cramped housing conditions and more chronic illnesses, making hospitalization for the flu more likely, officials said.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, influenza was one of the most challenging respiratory illnesses hospitals faced each year. The severity of the flu season varies depending on the strain of the virus and the effectiveness of the vaccines. According to CDC data, 9 to 41 million people have fallen ill, 140,000 to 170,000 people have been hospitalized and 12,000 to 52,000 have died each year over the past decade.
Carla Black, a CDC epidemiologist, told reporters Tuesday that the flu is difficult to predict, but the U.S. could face one of its worst seasons since the Covid pandemic began in March 2020.
“We’ve had two mild flu seasons and that means we may be ripe for a tough season because people aren’t taking all the action they took for Covid, which affected the flu, too,” Black said. “People haven’t had a natural disease in two years, so there’s less natural immunity out there.”
Only 49% of eligible adults were vaccinated against the flu last year. Black said everyone 6 months and older should have an injection; the CDC considers a 70% flu vaccination rate a success.
The effectiveness of flu shots varies from year to year, although they’re typically 40% to 60% effective at preventing disease, Black said. “Even people who get sick are less likely to have serious consequences like hospitalization and death,” she said.
dr Ashish Jha, the head of the White House Covid task force, has called on all Americans who are eligible to get both their Covid-Omicron booster and their flu shot as soon as possible.
“What happens in the coming weeks and months will have a huge impact on how the winter plays out, and what really happens this winter is largely up to us as the American people,” Jha told reporters last week.
“Don’t wait – get your new flu shot and your new Covid shot today. If Americans did that, we could save hundreds of lives every day this winter,” he said.