Vaccines are one of the most important measures we have to protect ourselves against infectious diseases. According to the World Health Organization, vaccines are second only to clean water when it comes to the impact on preventing infectious diseases. Vaccines are also cost-effective: according to Vaccinate Your Family, for every $1 spent on vaccines, the United States saves $10.90. Finally, vaccines are safe: there are multiple rounds of testing that vaccines are required to pass before FDA approval, and even once they are approved for use, there are multiple systems (like the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, or VAERS) in place to monitor harmful vaccine reactions.
Unfortunately, vaccination rates are lower than ideal levels in the United States, and this is particularly pronounced in communities of color. For adults in the 2019-2020 flu season, 53% of non-Hispanic white individuals received the flu vaccine, while only 38% of Hispanic or Latino and only 41% of non-Hispanic Black persons did. There are several reasons for these disparities, including vaccine access, safety concerns, and experiences with discrimination.
We are moving into flu season, and this year the flu shot is especially important: we want to avoid the “twindemic” of flu and COVID. The flu is serious: it causes up to 60,000 deaths and 800,000 hospitalizations yearly in the United States. According to the CDC, the flu shot is our best protection against the flu. I want to strongly urge members of communities of color to get the flu shot: it is safe, it does not cause the flu, and it not only protects you but also protects those who cannot get vaccinated (such as young babies). Private insurance, along with Medicare and Medicaid, cover the cost of flu shots, and there are locations in Indianapolis to receive a free flu shot for those who are uninsured, including the Indiana Immunization Coalition (call 317-628-7116 for office hours).
Levi Funches, MD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
Indiana University School of Medicine
Riley Children’s Hospital