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With flu season here, health officials urge communities of color to get vaccinated

Marissa Evans, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — When Sandy Sandoval tries to encourage her family members to get the flu vaccine, they usually tell her that the shot does not work and the vitamins they're taking are enough to protect them through the season.

But it didn't deter the 22-year-old from sitting in the appointment room at an AltaMed clinic in Santa Ana earlier this month to get the annual flu shot before going to her job at an Aldi supermarket.

She knows she's unlikely to persuade her family to get vaccinated, but she says she feels safe and protected. She was even more motivated this time as she watched her co-workers of all ages calling out sick with the flu.

"Everyone's getting sick," Sandoval said. "So far I haven't gotten sick because I've been on top of all of my vaccines. I think it works."

Since October, California has had 17 flu deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health. For weeks, public health officials have been bracing for a sickly winter that includes the alarming early start of flu season, rising COVID-19 cases and a surge of cases of respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV.

But public health officials are also expressing concern about how communities of color may fare as the flu makes a comeback and whether they can successfully persuade them to get the vaccinated.

 

Dr. Alexander Rodgers, an associate program director for the family medicine residency at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Willowbrook, said the emerging flu season is coming after years of mask mandates and social distancing. Although those policies were in place to ward off COVID-19, he said it also helped prevent flu cases as well.

As he and other providers encourage patients to get the flu vaccine, he said time will tell how bad this year's cases of the coronavirus and flu will be. Getting people in for their initial COVID-19 shots generally worked, Rodgers said, but getting them to come back in for boosters and other shots has been a challenge.

"I think a lot of people are kind of doing this mental calculus in their mind and saying 'Well, I got four COVID shots, so do I really need one flu shot?'" said Rodgers. "They're just saying, 'I don't want to do one more vaccine this year,' so I'm wondering what the flu vaccine turnout will be."

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that flu vaccination rates have been "consistently lower" among Black, Latino, and American Indian and Alaska Native adults compared with other ethnic groups nationwide since 2010. During the 2021–22 season, 42% of Black adults received a flu shot while 38% of Latino adults, and 41% of American Indian and Alaska Native adults did the same. White and Asian adults were vaccinated at 54%.

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