Today is Older Adults Vaccination Day

(December 9, 2010)

The American Lung Association is pleased to recognize today as National Influenza Vaccination Week’s Older Adults Vaccination Day. In an effort to increase influenza and pneumonia vaccination rates, the Lung Association issued its latest health disparity report today, titled “Missed Opportunities: Influenza and Pneumonia Vaccination in Older Adults.”

Influenza is responsible for an average of 226,000 hospitalizations and anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 deaths annually. Nearly 90 percent of deaths occur among people 65-years of age and older. Studies show that the flu shot can be up to 70 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations for both influenza and pneumonia in those over 65.

Older African Americans and Hispanics are at an increased risk from these preventable, yet deadly, respiratory diseases. In fact, African Americans and Hispanics are 28 percent and 25 percent less likely than whites to receive an influenza vaccination. The disparity is even more prominent for the pneumonia vaccinations as African Americans and Hispanics are 37 percent and 47 percent less likely to receive the vaccine than whites.

Unfortunately, these groups are disproportionately at risk of having preexisting conditions such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes that further increases the risk of severe illness and death from influenza and pneumonia.

More alarming is that these disparities exist despite older adults of all racial and ethnic groups accessing healthcare at roughly the same rate. Somehow, in healthcare settings, many older adults are not getting vaccinated due to “missed opportunities.” It has been suggested that if older African Americans and Hispanics achieved immunization rates equal to that of whites, 1880, or roughly 25 percent of flu-related deaths among these groups could be prevented in a single year.

The Lung Association’s report highlights some possible reasons behind this disparity and proposes a series of public health and policy solutions to bring parity to overall vaccinations rates among older Americans. To download a copy of the report and to learn more visit www.lung.org/vaccination-disaparties.