Health Expert Stresses the Importance of Immunization to
Protect Yourself and the Ones You Love
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans are a vulnerable population with low flu vaccination rates who experience disproportionately higher rates of chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart diseases and obesity.
Research has demonstrated that systemic inequities and implicit bias have been demonstrated to contribute to this disparity among African Americans. Chronic conditions place African Americans at higher risks for severe influenza complications, said Dr. Sharon Okonkwo-Holmes, a family practice physician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
“The influenza vaccine remains the most effective prevention against contracting the disease,” she said. “Catching the flu will compromise your immune system and potentially make you more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 or other infectious diseases, which would result in dire consequences to your health. The flu is preventable, and the flu shot is our best defense against it. Getting vaccinated will protect your health and the health of your loved ones.”
Studies show there are significant disparities in flu vaccination rates and flu-related complications within the Black community.
A common misconception is that a flu shot will give you the flu, said Dr. Okonkwo-Holmes. That’s simply not true, she noted, because you cannot contract the flu from getting a flu shot. Side effects, when they do occur, are typically very mild. However, by not getting vaccinated, you put yourself and your loved ones at a greater risk of getting the flu, which causes serious illness, hospitalization and thousands of deaths each year.
“That’s why it’s so important for us as African Americans to get an annual influenza vaccine because of our increased health risk factors,” said Dr. Okonkwo-Holmes. “Getting vaccinated can reduce flu-related illnesses, doctor’s visits and missed school and workdays. Influenza vaccination in high-risk individuals has also been linked to favorable health outcomes, including fewer flu-related hospitalizations and death. High-risk individuals include children, the elderly, immuno-compromised individuals and those with chronic conditions.”
When it comes to children, those under age 8 will need to receive two flu shots, with a booster vaccine given 28 days after the first inoculation. Parents are strongly encouraged to vaccinate their children early this year to maximize their protection, as many children have resumed in-class learning at their schools after more than a year of remote learning at home, potentially exposing them more to the flu virus.
This is especially true this year, because the flu will weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to catching other infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, said Dr. Okonkwo-Holmes. Having the flu and COVID-19 at the same time would be devastating to your health.
Kaiser Permanente members, which number 4.7 million in Southern California, are encouraged to visit kp.org/flu or call the flu hotline number at 1-866-706-6358 for information on how to safely get your flu vaccine at one of the many Kaiser Permanente facilities across Southern California.