NEWS OPINION

Op-Ed: Combating Disparities In Hispanic Vaccination Rates Requires More Diverse Research

headshot of Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, MACP, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association

Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, MACP, is the President and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association. Here, she explains why disparities in vaccine rates among Latinx adults exist, and the actions that her organization is taking to address them.

As we see a small but increasing number of influenza virus cases for the 2021-22 flu season, the seasonal flu immunization is the most important vaccine for Hispanic people to get in addition to the COVID-19 vaccination.

With the overlap of COVID-19 and flu season, I believe it’s more important than ever for people to increase their immune system’s ability to fight both viruses by getting both vaccines—not only to protect themselves but their loved ones.

A comprehensive study of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of severe influenza resulting in hospitalization.

This is happening because they're under-vaccinated. Another CDC report analyzing flu vaccine uptake during 2019-2020 confirms disparities persist in vaccine uptake among Hispanic or Latino people, particularly among adults.

There are several key reasons why Hispanic adults have low rates of routine immunizations. Hispanic adults are hardworking and spend extensive time caring for their families—both aging parents and young children—and subsequently tend to ignore their own health.

Despite the Affordable Care Act, Hispanics are also among the most uninsured racial/ethnic groups in the United States. Additionally, Hispanic people face language barriers that limit their access to medical care and contribute to a lack of awareness of the importance of prevention services.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Latino physicians make up only 5.8% of all physicians in the U.S., and most of them are in the primary care specialties. They provide care for the many Latino patients in their communities, academic hospitals, or medical practices where they work—however, very few of them are physician-researchers.

The lack of Hispanic/Latino representation in the fields of medicine and research continues to exacerbate health disparities.

It’s important to note that vaccine research is essential to understanding the effectiveness of vaccination to fight off viruses and curb preventable diseases in various populations.

People who experience high rates of stress, are essential workers, or live in crowded conditions have higher rates of exposure and a greater risk of contracting a virus.

For meaningful insights, medical research and clinical trials must include a diverse group of participants that reflect the populations we serve.

The National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) has long supported the development of a new workforce of physician-researchers with the experience and cultural competencies needed to attract more Hispanic participants and produce reflective research findings.

As President and CEO of NHMA and our sister organization, the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF), I’m thrilled to develop the National Center for Hispanic Health Research, a mentoring and career development program that aims to pair junior and senior researchers and expand opportunities for community-based research.

Together, with the help of vaccinations and a diverse healthcare workforce that reflects the diversity of our communities, we can make the heavy toll of viral pandemics on communities of color a thing of the past.

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  1. O’Halloran AC, Holstein R, Cummings C, et al. Rates of influenza-associated hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, and in-hospital death by race and ethnicity in the united states from 2009 to 2019JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(8):e2121880. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.21880