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Sunday, October 19th, 2014

For African-Americans, Flu Vaccine Could Be a Lifesaver

Flu ShotTaking my son to the pediatrician for shots was the bane of my existence during his early years.

Already a bit of a ham, my son turned it into high dudgeon whenever he saw a needle on the doctor’s tray. Vaccinations and flu shots were the worst. I would have given my right arm for an oral or nasal vaccine in those days.

Tia Mowry, co-star with her twin sister on “Tia & Tamera” on the Style Network, as well as a mother of a 2-year-old son, knows the feeling all too well.  But she has joined with MedImmune Specialty Care, a division of pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, to launch an awareness campaign encouraging people to get an annual flu vaccination.

In “I Insist!” – an online video – Mowry uses humor to educate families about the important of living a healthy lifestyle and making vaccination a priority.

It doesn’t hurt that the company’s vaccine is a nasal mist.

“That’s one of the main reasons I joined. It’s the one vaccine that is needle-free. I’m one of those people who is not fond of needles,” Mowry said.

FluMist Quadrivalent is a nasal spray influenza vaccine designed for children, adolescents and adults  -ages 2 through 49. It also provides protection against an additional influenza strain that the already familiar FluMist does not.

For a lot of people who are afraid of needles, use of a nasal mist may encourage them to get vaccinated against the flu. For African-Americans, who are less likely to get vaccinated, this could be an important development.

Black senior citizens, especially, are both among the most vulnerable and the least willing, for example, to be vaccinated.

Overall, less than half of adults and just over half of children in the U.S. get vaccinated.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, however, African-American seniors are 30 percent less likely to get flu or pneumonia vaccines than white seniors. Health officials have said this reluctance could lead to more frequent hospital visits and even deaths.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that black patients are hospitalized at higher rates for flu-related illnesses than other minority groups and many suffer additional complications from asthma and diabetes. The CDC said that the black community was especially hard hit in 2009, when the H1N1 virus (swine flu) hit.

In an interview at the end of last flu season on NPR’s “Tell Me More,” Mark Thompson, a CDC epidemiologist, told host Michel Martin there were a variety of reasons that black seniors refuse to get vaccinated.

“African-Americans are less likely to be insured or have a medical home, so one of the barriers is access, to being able to be in the doctor’s office in the fall to get the vaccine,” Thompson said. “We’ve also found that in some studies African-Americans are more likely to have concerns about the vaccine, to believe in certain myths about the vaccine,” including that it could actually give a patient the flu.

Health experts say people who contract the flu after receiving the vaccine have already been exposed to the virus, but not shown symptoms before being vaccinated.

“It’s not a perfect vaccine, but year in and year out it’s effective to some degree, somewhere around a third to half in reducing the risk of medical visits,” he said. “And in the last few years it’s reduced the risk of hospitalization by about two-thirds among older adults.”

Mowry said she lives a healthy lifestyle, but until fairly recently had not been aware of the flu vaccine or the need for it. But now that she knows the impact that flu can have on one’s health she felt it was important to encourage the public to get vaccinated.

“The myth that’s out there is it’s like a bad cold,” Mowry said of the flu. “It’s very serious; it’s potentially dangerous and can turn into so many other things, like bronchitis.”

The FluMist Quadrivalent is available for eligible persons between 2 and 49 years old, but is not for those with a severe allergy to eggs, gentamicin, gelatin or arginine; have ever had a life-threatening reaction to influenza vaccinations; or children and adolescents who take aspirin or medicines containing aspirin.

Other side effects are possible, so patients are advised to consult with a doctor to determine whether to take the nasal vaccine.

Additional information on the “I Insist!” campaign is available on an interactive website, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

While the nasal mist may provide an option for many, the most important thing is to get vaccinated, especially for those who travel frequently or are in environments in close proximity to lots of people who may have been exposed to viruses, particularly in schools and day-care centers.

“With my son, he’s had whooping cough vaccination. We did it because he travels a lot. In order for me to feel comfortable about his safety, I decided to vaccinate him,” said Mowry, who clearly is a strong proponent of preventive measures.

“The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu.”

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”

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