Although many deaths can be prevented by simple, inexpensive flu shots, vaccination rates remain modest, according to Richard Kent Zimmerman, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues. Too few adults appreciate the importance of this preventable disease and too many harbor doubts about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, Zimmerman says.
The study appears in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Influenza immunization rates for people age 65 years or older fell to 63 percent in 2000-2001, well below the national goal of 90 percent and down from 68 per cent a year earlier. Rates among minority groups were even lower: 49 percent for blacks and 52 percent for Hispanics.
However, the researchers found a vaccination-friendly culture at veterans' hospitals exceeded the national goal, with equally high rates among both blacks and whites.
Zimmerman and colleagues questioned 60 physicians and a sampling of 925 of their patients to discover factors affecting influenza vaccination among older adults.
The study was done before the current outbreak of a new flu strain that started earlier than usual and has produced a shortage of vaccines. The shortage is due, in part, to the fact that manufacturers cut production in response to lower-than-expected demand last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Zimmerman found, unsurprisingly, that economic issues played a role in the low rates. One-fifth of doctors he surveyed were "very concerned" about Medicare reimbursement, and half were likely to refer a patient on Medicaid to public health departments for the shots.