Why Black and Hispanic Seniors Are Left With a Less Powerful Flu Vaccine

by | Apr 6, 2022 | Health

At Whitman-Walker Health, Dr. David Fessler and his staff administer high-dose influenza vaccine to all HIV-positive and senior patients. Although the vaccine is roughly three times as expensive as standard flu vaccine, it seems to do a better job at protecting those with weakened immune systems — a major focus of the nonprofit’s Washington, D.C., clinics.

At the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, meanwhile, Dr. Melissa Martinez runs a drive-thru clinic providing 10,000 influenza vaccines each year for a community made up largely of Black and Hispanic residents. It’s open to all comers, and they all get the standard vaccine.

These different approaches to preventing influenza, a serious threat to the young and old even with covid-19 on the scene, reflect the fact that federal health officials haven’t taken a clear position on whether the high-dose flu vaccine — on the market since 2010 — is the best choice for the elderly. Another factor is cost. While Medicare reimburses both vaccines, the high-dose shot is three times as expensive, and carrying both vaccines for different populations requires additional staffing and logistics.

“We’ve focused on giving the standard-dose vaccine, trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Martinez said. And they will keep doing so, she added, until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices decides whether to preferentially recommend the enhanced …

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