Trust Issues Linked to Fewer Black People Getting Flu Shots

Posted on Nov 18th 2020 by Marilyn Young

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For decades, Black people have been less likely to get a flu shot than those from many other races. And the percentages in Florida are among the lowest in the country.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says only 38 percent of Black residents at least 6 months old in Florida got a flu shot last season. That’s compared to 49.7 percent of white residents and 44.5 percent of the state’s total population.

Some of the reasons date back decades, according to Dr. Cynthia Griffin, vice president of government pharmacy programs at Florida Blue. They center on trust issues, misperceptions and fears. And this year, she said, you can add politics to the list.Dr. Cynthia Griffin, vice president of government pharmacy programs at Florida Blue, and her husband, the Rev. Mark Griffin of Wayman Temple AME Church.

Despite all that, Griffin said, there are ways to convince more people in Black communities to get a flu shot. Sometimes it’s about finding a person with influence in the Black community to share the message. Other times it’s about providing convenient access, like through a series of drive-up clinics that Florida Blue held at Black churches in Jacksonville where anyone at least 3 years old could get a flu shot at no cost. There also were drive-up clinics at Florida Blue Centers around the state, where a variety of vaccinations were available, including a flu shot

Lack of trust in medical system

Griffin said mistrust of the medical system by Black communities dates back decades, to events like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932-72. The study followed 600 Black men who received free medical care, including for syphilis. But doctors secretly didn’t treat the nearly 400 men who had syphilis because researchers wanted to track how the disease affected them. This continued long after penicillin was accepted as a treatment of choice in 1945, according to the CDC.

The lack of trust is higher than normal this year, Griffin said, because of the political bickering about COVID-19 and vaccines to protect people against the coronavirus. She said there’s a perception that politicians have influence over the vaccine makers, which leads to a mistrust of the pharmaceutical manufacturers. “But,” Griffin stressed. “They (politicians) don’t have that influence.”

Education is the key

Despite those barriers, Griffin said there are ways to convince more Black people to get a flu shot. Education is the key, she said, and it has to come from someone people can relate to. “It’s that one person who has to be the example and show it really is OK,” she said.

It could be a doctor making sure their patients understand the importance of a flu shot and where they can get one since fewer doctors are giving flu shots in their offices. It could also be a caregiver, a family member or a friend.

Griffin said churches have an important role to play, especially in Black communities. Many churches have health ministries that focus on vaccinations, exercise and eating well.

Members can be heavily influenced by the examples set by their ministers and other church leaders. Griffin has seen it happen many times at Wayman Temple AME Church in Jacksonville, where her husband, Mark, is the pastor. And she has influence, as well, because she’s a health care provider and the pastor’s wife.

Mark Griffin shares with his congregation when he is getting a prostate exam or colonoscopy or when his wife is going in for a mammogram. That has given many church members the courage and motivation to do the same, Cynthia Griffin said. And sometimes, other medical issues have been found during those examinations.

Make sure you’re protected against the flu

Mark Griffin’s church was one of several in Jacksonville where flu shots were available to anyone at least 3 years old at no cost, thanks to a Florida Blue partnership with Winn-Dixie. People 65 and older also received pneumonia shots at no cost.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about getting your flu shot or visit the Florida Department of Health’s list of places to get one. With COVID-19 still a major health concern, there’s never been a more important time to stay healthy.


Filed under: Community  


Marilyn Young

Marilyn Young spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining Florida Blue.

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