A new study out this week in Health Affairs reveals that black nursing home residents are less likely than whites to get or be offered flu shots. The study finds that nursing homes with more black residents have lower vaccination rates.
With flu season upon us, the study raises concerns about black nursing home patients’ disproportionate vulnerability to flu outbreaks. Annual flu-related hospitalizations among the elderly exceed 185,000 annually, and 90 percent of flu-related respiratory and circulatory deaths have been shown to occur among the elderly.
This is the first nationwide study to examine vaccination disparities using multiple years of data. Researchers examined Medicaid- and Medicare-certified nursing homes during flu seasons from 2006 through 2009, the most recent data available, and found that:
Over three flu seasons, the odds of being vaccinated were 14-16 percent lower for blacks than for whites within the same nursing home.
More blacks refuse the vaccine than whites, suggesting that nursing homes should better educate patients and build trust in health care staff.
Researchers say more information is needed about why vaccination disparities exist, noting that bias and fewer resources at facilities with lower vaccination rates for blacks could be to blame.