A lower percentage of black adults have been shown to get their flu shots, a fact state public health officials are expressing concern over as the nation enters an early flu season.
During last year's flu season, about 63 percent of white adults older than 65 got a flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, only about 50 percent of non-Hispanic black residents in the same age category got their flu shot, according to the CDC.
Overall, black adults are less likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have received the flu vaccine in the past year or to have ever received the pneumonia vaccine, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
Bobbie Nubine, the chief of immunization services at the state Health Department, said the department doesn't know for sure why a lower percentage of black residents have gotten their flu shots in previous years.
“What we have to do is assume it would be things such as cost or accessibility, things that we at the state Department of Health could have an impact on,” Nubine said.
Since Sept. 30, Oklahoma has seen 30 residents hospitalized with flu-related illness, defined as having a fever more than 100 degrees combined with cough or sore throat, according to the Health Department. No flu-related deaths have been confirmed.
Public health officials have expressed concern that this year's flu season could be worse than the past few years. The U.S. is experiencing an early flu season with high levels of activity concentrated in the south-central and southeastern regions, according to the CDC.
As people travel to other states for the holidays, they can bring the flu virus back with them, Nubine said.
It's important for residents to get their shots, which take about two weeks to take full effect, before Oklahoma sees higher rates of the flu, she said.
County health departments charge a $25 fee for regular seasonal flu vaccine for people who have insurance and resources to pay. The flu shot is also covered by Medicare Part B for adults 65 and older.
People who are on Medicare and do not belong to an HMO won't be charged a fee. Also, no fee is charged for residents on SoonerCare, the state's Medicaid program, and for children who are eligible for the Vaccines for Children program.
People 18 and younger who are Medicaid eligible, uninsured, underinsured or American Indian or an Alaska Native qualify for the Vaccines for Children program.
“Underinsured” means a child has private health insurance but doesn't have coverage for vaccines or has insurance that covers only certain vaccines or has a cap on vaccine coverage.
Underinsured children can receive a Vaccines for Children vaccine only through a Rural Health Clinic or a Federally Qualified Health Center, such as Variety Care, which has six pediatric sites in Oklahoma County.
No one is denied a flu shot because of inability to pay, according to the Health Department.