There’s Too Much at Risk: Latinos in LA Must Get Their Flu Shots!

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-In an Op-Ed last December, the LA Times brought to our attention the results of UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey which noted that only 43% of Californians received a flu shot in 2014. Worse, among Latinos, the largest racial or ethnic group in the state, only 37% were vaccinated, many of them in Los Angeles. 

The Opinion/Op-Ed illustrated that in early November, California had its first infant death of the year from the flu. It can be easy to forget that the flu actually does kill. Young, healthy adults might only miss a few days of work if they catch the flu this winter, but by skipping flu shots, getting sick and potentially spreading the virus, they are also endangering vulnerable children, many with chronic diseases, as well as the elderly with whom they come in contact. 

That statistic becomes even more troubling when one examines differences among first, second and third-generation Latinos. First-generation Mexican Americans — those born in Mexico, where vaccination is widespread and more commonly accepted than in the United States — are far more likely to get flu shots than those born and raised here. In 2014, only 24% of second-generation Latinos and 15% of third-generation Latinos in California received a flu vaccination, compared with 61% of first-generation Latinos. 

A Los Angeles Times study, using the California Health Interview Survey data, showed that even when taking into account factors such as insurance status, health status and characteristics such as education and age, the disparity in flu vaccination rates among Mexican Americans of different generations remains. 

This is an economic issue as well as a public health issue. One study estimated that in just one year, 2003, the flu cost the United States $87.1 billion in medical costs and lost wages. The Latino population is expanding in Los Angeles and California, and that means absenteeism and hospitalization costs associated with the lack of flu vaccinations will also expand if the generational patterns continue. 

There is one simple explanation for why vaccination rates among second and third-generation Latinos differ so significantly from those of their newcomer parents and grandparents. Mexico heavily promotes vaccination in general, and it has the highest rate of flu vaccination among people 65 and older in the nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the U.S., however, many people aren't persuaded by public health campaigns for flu shots; they are suspicious of vaccinations, wrongly believing that shots cause health problems rather than prevent them. 

The flu vaccination message that has been so well communicated in Mexico needs to spread to Latinos and everyone else in California. Flu shot campaigns aimed at Latinos should particularly target second and third-generation immigrants. Now, such campaigns are mostly delivered in Spanish, though the Pew Hispanic Center has shown that English is the predominant language for the children of newcomers. Family-related messages are also important because many Latinos live in multigenerational homes, where the risk of spreading the flu to the very young, to the elderly, as well as to those with chronic diseases, is acute. 

We must agree with the conclusion of the writers of the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece (Mariaelena Gonzalez, assistant professor of public health and a member of the Health Sciences Research Institute at UC Merced, and Jennifer Mendiola and Van Do-Reynoso, both doctoral candidates at UC Merced) when they say that California and Washington should provide funding for new outreach to promote free or low-cost vaccinations; they should also fund additional research into the most effective forms of health communication for our changing population. 

The lack of wide-spread vaccinating among Latinos creates unnecessary dangers. Economic losses, due to the flu and the deaths associated with it each winter, are preventable with a one-dose vaccine. Los Angeles, a city that already has many issues to solve, does not need to add this unnecessary and preventable problem to the pile.


(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village.  He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016