Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services launches campaign to improve flu vaccine rates in the state’s communities of color

February 4, 2021

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has recently launched the “Be an InFLUencer” education and awareness campaign to help promote flu vaccination within Wisconsin’s communities of color. During the 2019-2020 flu season, the DHS reports that an average of 42 percent of Wisconsin residents received a flu shot. However, vaccination rates were much lower among communities of color with only 26 percent of black Wisconsinites getting a flu shot, the lowest rate among all ethnic groups in the state.

Dr. Kevin Izard, the campaign spokesman and a physician with Paladina Health, said the low flu vaccination rates in Black communities and building trust in communities of color are the major reasons he wanted to be the spokesman for the DHS campaign. “The numbers show that we’re less likely to get the flu vaccine. So, it’s important to get the word out to African American communities and dispel the myths, build trust, encourage, and influence our communities of color to get a flu shot,” he said “The vaccine has been proven to be safe and it’s available now, “Dr. Izard added.

The healthcare system has been historically untrustworthy for African Americans. Because of this, a mistrust of health care has been passed down generationally and it’s still prevalent today in many Black communities. A major reason for this skepticism relates to the Tuskegee experiments, the unethical study in which 600 Black men were used as guinea pigs for syphilis research from 1932 to 1972. Dr. Izard says a lack of access to healthcare is also a barrier which is preventing many people of color from getting a flu shot. “Hopefully by having more sites and providing more convenient hours, we’ll make the flu vaccine more available to more people wherever they are,” he said.

Dr. Izard said people of color frequently move in different circles, which is another reason for the campaign. “The things that have worked in the past for the majority culture might not necessarily work for us,” he said. “So, we’re trying to get the word out differently. Through word of mouth, social media and influencers we’re trying to do things in a different way to get the word out.”

According to the latest 10-year analysis project by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Black people have the highest flu-related hospitalization rate. With COVID-19 raging on into 2021, Dr. Izard said this is a major call to action for people of color to get a flu shot. “Everyone over 6-months-old should get a flu shot, especially this year because of COVID-19 continuing to surge,” he said. “We really want to take flu off the table as we deal with COVID-19. If we can eliminate the flu, that would make things a lot easier for us and take some of the burden off of our hospitals.”

For more information about the DHS campaign, https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/influenza

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