‘Call for Community-Driven Equity in Flu Vaccination’ to Address Disparities in Underserved Communities amid COVID-19 Pandemic

National Minority Quality Forum Action Panel Says It Has Never Been More Important to Increase Flu Vaccination in Communities of Color

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 25, 2020) —Today, the National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF) Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity (SHC) announced a major effort to promote flu vaccination in communities of color—as an SHC-convened panel of experts, clinicians, and stakeholders called for even stronger efforts to promote flu vaccination, as racial and ethnic disparities persist in the face of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic with its disproportionate impact on communities of color.

“It has never been more important to get a flu vaccine, so as to minimize respiratory illness and its impact on patients’ health as well as the healthcare system,” said UAMS College of Medicine’s Robert H. Hopkins, Jr., M.D., M.A.C.P., F.A.A.P., who is also the National Vaccine Advisory Committee Chair at US Department of Health and Human Services, and Chair of the Communications and Advocacy Subgroup of DRIVE Advisory Group.

Chair of the advisory group, Dr. Gregory A. Poland, M.D., M.A.C.P., F.I.D.S.A., F.R.C.P.—who is Distinguished Investigator of the Mayo Clinic, Director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group and Editor-in-Chief at “VACCINE”—agrees.

“I believe it is critical for all of us to work together, basing our efforts on evidence-based strategies and innovative approaches, in partnership with members of communities of color to protect everyone from the flu in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he noted.

SHC has worked to promote flu vaccination around the country, training and empowering practices to take steps to promote vaccination to their patients. Dr. Laura Lee Hall, SHC’s President, said that “healthcare practices have been able to increase vaccination rates 40% or more by training and empowering clinic nurses and medical assistants and other staff to proactively promote flu vaccines.”

Despite effective tools for increasing flu vaccination, disparities persist and have even increased in certain settings. Dr. Hall noted that: “People of color are much less likely to receive a flu vaccination, and that gap is even increasing, including in publicly funded programs such as Medicare and in nursing homes.”

This flu season presents even more intense challenges: clinics often are under greater pressure due to fewer patient visits and to keep patients and staff safe from COVID-19 exposure; the pandemic has heightened concerns about vaccine safety and access; and the larger social and political environment has increased awareness of racial injustice in many institutions. Trust is at an all-time low.

“It is critical that true community engagement is achieved to encourage flu vaccination in communities of color. A trusted voice who cares about the community is essential — in helping to guide efforts to promote flu vaccination and to bring education and information to the community,” says Rev. Dr. Terris A. King, the Pastor of Liberty Grace Church of God in Baltimore, long-time health leader, and the leader of the SHC collaboration to promote flu vaccination with Baltimore and Prince George’s County religious leaders. “Our community members have suffered so much from the COVID-19 virus, I along with other religious leaders in our community are committed to promoting their health and well-being, including through flu vaccination.”

Accordingly, the panel recommends a community-based, multifaceted – all hands on deck – approach to flu vaccine promotion. In addition to primary health care providers and pharmacists, SHC calls on all health care providers including specialists and community – and home healthcare providers to strongly promote and provide flu vaccines. In addition to strategies for safe delivery of flu vaccines in the office setting, larger scale (such as drive-through), mobile, and community-based provision of the vaccine, perhaps in combination with COVID-19 testing, should be implemented to increase vaccine access.

Community leaders, including clergy members, elected officials, teachers and business leaders, hairdressers and barbers, health care providers and other trusted sources should engage in the effort to protect the health of their community through flu vaccination, providing input on what would best serve the community and community concerns. They in turn can educate the public about the importance of flu vaccination.

SHC has developed a number of resources and projects to translate the recommendations into action, including an online toolkit for practices and communities to use in implementing flu vaccine strategies with ongoing support.

“We encourage you to reach out to our team to see what you can do to promote flu vaccination in your community,” Dr. Hall noted.

Gary Puckrein, Ph.D., president and CEO of NMQF, believes the best way to obtain predictable positive outcomes for patients during COVID-19 is through support of local care networks.

“For decades we have known that throughout our nation’s history, people of color have experienced reduced access to health care, higher rates of chronic conditions and, ultimately, higher rates of mortality across a range of health conditions,” said Puckrein. “Now, during the pandemic, we have an urgent need to provide our underserved communities with accessible, equitable health care, including flu vaccines.”

The project was supported by a grant from Sanofi Pasteur.

For more information about the “Call for Community-Driven Equity in Flu Vaccination,” please visit SHC at nmqf-shc.org or contact Dr. Laura Lee Hall (llhall@nmqf.org).

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About National Minority Quality Forum

The National Minority Quality Forum assists health care providers, professionals, administrators, researchers, policymakers, and community and faith-based organizations in delivering appropriate health care to minority communities. This assistance is based on providing the evidence in the form of science, research, and analysis that will lead to the effective organization and management of system resources to improve the quality and safety of health care for the entire population of the U.S., including minorities. For more information, please visit www.nmqf.org.

About Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity

The Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity promotes sustainable healthy communities, especially those with diverse and underserved populations, through the provision of actionable data, research, and engagement of clinicians and community leaders. For more information, please visit www.nmqf-shc.org.