Racial Factors Impact Trust in the Flu Vaccine

Racial differences in flu vaccine participation sheds light on a larger issue.

African Americans are less likely to choose to get a flu shot than Caucasians, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) School of Public Health found that racial factors come into play not only in attitudes towards vaccines, but also on behaviors.

“In our research team and the field more broadly, we have looked at traditional ways of addressing attitudes and knowledge in our communications to enhance people’s acceptance of the flu vaccine. Yet it’s not working and racial disparities persist,” lead author, Sandra Crouse Quinn, PhD, a professor at UMD, said in a news release.

Differences in attitudes toward vaccination emerged from surveys distributed to 838 Caucasians and 819 African Americans. The adult participants were asked to rank responses regarding their perceptions of how their race is treated such as:

  • People of my race are treated fairly in a healthcare setting.
  • The government acts in the best interest of people in my racial group.

The researchers also had participants respond to racial consciousness statements, like:

  • I think about my race when I am in a health-care setting.
  • Because of my race, I have less reason to trust the flu vaccine than other groups.
  • Racism makes a difference in getting access to certain medicines or treatments.

The results assessed participants’ knowledge of the flu vaccine as well as their beliefs about it, whether that meant support for vaccination or having conspiracy theories.

“The social, cultural, and historical contexts in which African Americans and Whites make health care decisions are quite different,” Quinn said.

In the study, African Americans were less likely to get an annual flu shot than Caucasians (39% vs. 47%). This disparity can be attributed to multiple factors.

African Americans’ responses showed that they had greater racial consciousness and greater awareness of disparities in the health-care setting. In addition, African Americans had less knowledge about the flu vaccine and less trust in flu shots, which translated to a greater perceived vaccine risk and greater hesitancy.

The researchers found that African Americans were more likely to get the flu vaccine if they felt higher racial fairness within the healthcare setting. Racial fairness was also associated with Caucasians’ likelihood of having positive vaccine attitudes.

Racial factors were more relevant to African Americans in deciding whether to get a flu shot; therefore, addressing them could help get more people vaccinated.

“This has important implications for how we train healthcare providers to talk with patients about the vaccine,” Quinn concluded. “Our race makes a difference in how we see the world and how the world sees us.”

The study, “Exploring racial influences on flu vaccine attitudes on behavior: Results of a national survey of White and African American adults,” was published in the journal Vaccine. The news release was provided by UMD School of Public Health.

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