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Wisconsin Launches Campaign To Get Flu Shot To Minority Communities

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Because of discrimination and history of malpractice, African American and other communities of color are less likely to get a flu shot. Wisconsin hopes that their new educational campaign can help get more people vaccinated during this year's flu season.

Flu vaccinations are up so far this year and state health officials hope a new education and awareness campaign launched Wednesday will boost participation among minorities who historically have been more reticent to get vaccinated.

Getting the flu shot it is recommended every year, but never more so than now as hospitals and health care systems are already under stress from the coronavirus pandemic. Adding an influx of flu patients would completely overwhelm a health care system already stretched to the limit, said Dr. Tom Haupt, influenza surveillance coordinator for the state Department of Health Services.

READ: Why Misinformation And Distrust Are Making COVID-19 More Dangerous For Black America

The good news for now, Haupt said, is there have been very few confirmed cases of the flu so far this season and more people are getting vaccinated compared to last year. The goal, particularly by reaching out to minorities, is to ensure there is no spike in flu cases, he said.

The number of people who got the flu this year started dropping in March and “fell off the table” in the summer with very little activity, Haupt said The precautions people have taken to avoid getting COVID-19 — frequently washing hands, avoiding crowds, staying home — certainly also help to avoid the flu, but that must be complemented with receiving the vaccine, he said.

Only 17 people have tested positive for the flu this season, Haupt said.

On Wednesday, the state added 3,619 new positive COVID-19 cases and 81 deaths. To date, there have been 422,000 confirmed cases and 3,887 COVID-19 deaths due to COVID-19.

The number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has been trending downward since it hit a high in mid-November. As of Tuesday, there were 1,556 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Wisconsin.

However, Wisconsin’s seven-day average of new cases is still more than four times higher than what it was in September.

While vaccines for COVID-19 won't be widely available until into 2021, the flu vaccine is available now. So far, about 2.1 million people in Wisconsin have been vaccinated for the flu, which is 37.1% of the total population, Haupt said.

That's up from 34.6% of the population at this point last year, he said.

Last year, 42% of the population got vaccinated but only 26% of African Americans were vaccinated, he said.

The campaign launched Thursday dubbed “Be an InFLUencer” is running as broadcast and digital ads, and a website launched as part of the campaign includes a link for people to find places to get flu vaccines.

Dr. Kevin Izard, who practices at Paladina Health in Milwaukee, said communities of color have historically been skeptical of vaccines and cautious of the medical system in general for a variety of reasons, making the educational campaign to try and reach them all the more important.

“Like anything, it’s a lot of baby steps," he said.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers announced that the Army will deploy about 45 medical personnel to work in Wisconsin hospitals. They will support Marshfield Medical Center facilities in Marshfield, Eau Claire, Beaver Dam and Rice Lake. The system has been using volunteers but still can’t keep up with the number of patients, Evers’ office said.

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