Study: Hispanics less likely to get flu shot

Language barrier may inhibit vaccine administration

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Seniors of Hispanic descent are far less likely to become immunized against the flu or pneumonia, compared with white seniors, according to a new RAND study released earlier this week.

Researchers found that Hispanic seniors who prefer speaking Spanish and live in such linguistically isolated communities as the Southeast are least likely to be immunized.

"All Hispanic seniors are less likely to become immunized, and we found the problem seems to be the worst in new immigrant communities where Spanish is the predominant language," stated Amelia Haviland, the study's lead author and a statistician at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "These findings suggest new strategies may be needed to target an important problem."

The findings were published in the Jan. 24 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study analyzed information from more than 244,000 seniors surveyed in 2008 as a part of the Medicare Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, a federal project that regularly polls a large number of American seniors about a variety of healthcare issues.

According to the study, 74% of white seniors had received the pneumonia vaccine, while just 56% of English-speaking Hispanic seniors and 40% of Spanish-speaking Hispanic seniors had done so. Findings for getting the annual flu vaccine were a bit less dramatic, RAND reported. While 76% of white seniors had been inoculated against the flu, 68% of English-speaking Hispanic seniors and 64% of Spanish-speaking Hispanics seniors had done so.

Researchers found that the disparities did not appear to be related to differences in health status and were explained only partly by socio-demographic differences between the groups. Communities where there was a long-standing Hispanic population had significantly smaller disparities in influenza vaccination rates, regardless of language preference.

In addition, researchers found that Hispanic seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans had higher pneumonia immunization rates and experienced lower White-Hispanic disparities than those in traditional fee-for-service Medicare plans, regardless of language preference.

Haviland said the findings suggested that further efforts are needed to improve cultural and linguistic access to care for Hispanic seniors.

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