Hispanic Seniors Less Likely to Get Flu Shots

Published Online: Friday, June 3, 2011
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Seniors of Hispanic descent are far less likely to become immunized against the flu or pneumonia compared to Caucasian seniors, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers found that Hispanic seniors who prefer speaking Spanish and live in linguistically isolated communities such as the Southeast that are newer immigrant destinations are least likely to be immunized. The findings suggest that such groups should be targeted with special education efforts in the future.

“All Hispanic seniors are less likely to become immunized, and we found the problem seems to be the worst in new immigrant communities where Spanish is the predominant language,” said Amelia M. Haviland, the study's lead author and a statistician at RAND, in a statement. “These findings suggest new strategies may be needed to target an important problem.”

The study analyzed information from more than 244,000 seniors surveyed in 2008 as a part of the Medicare Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems project. Researchers found lifetime immunization rates for pneumonia were substantially lower among both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Hispanics when compared to Caucasian adults of the same age. While 74% of Caucasian seniors had received the pneumonia vaccine, just 56% of English-speaking Hispanic seniors and 40% of Spanish-speaking Hispanic seniors had received it.

Findings for getting the annual flu vaccine were a bit less dramatic. Seventy-six percent of Caucasian seniors had been inoculated against the flu, compared with 68% of English-speaking Hispanic seniors and 64% of Spanish-speaking Hispanics seniors.

Researchers found that the disparities did not appear to be related to differences in health status and were explained only partly by socio-demographic differences between the groups. Communities where there was a longstanding Hispanic population had significantly smaller disparities in influenza vaccination rates, regardless of language preference.

In addition, researchers found that Hispanic seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans (a type of health maintenance organization) had higher pneumonia immunization rates and experienced lower White-Hispanic disparities than those in traditional fee-for-service Medicare plans, regardless of language preference.

Haviland said the findings suggest that further efforts are needed to improve cultural and linguistic access to care for Hispanic seniors.

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