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Few African Americans vaccinated at L.A. County H1N1 flu clinics

February 9, 2010 | 12:18 pm

Few African Americans were vaccinated at Los Angeles County H1N1 flu clinics, despite outcry from county leaders last fall and a million-dollar county-funded public outreach campaign.

“We did not reach the number of African Americans we would like to,” said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county’s public health director.

African Americans, who make up 9% of the county population, received 2.96% of the 200,000 vaccinations the county distributed at 109 public clinics through Dec. 8,  according to figures released last week by the county’s Public Health Department.

At the same time, Asians were “over-represented” at county clinics, Fielding said, receiving 27.62% of the vaccinations, although they make up about 13% of the county population.

The figures surprised Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who had complained in December that too few African-Americans were getting vaccinated. At his urging, on Dec. 15 supervisors approved plans to double the public health department’s contract with Clear Channel Communications to $1 million to increase H1N1 flu outreach to minorities, especially African Americans.

Public health officials designed H1N1 billboards, public service announcements that aired on HOT 92.3 FM and Black Entertainment Television, and H1N1 presentations for churches, schools and community groups like Black Women for Wellness. After Dec. 31, those efforts were ramped up.

But the latest vaccination figures cast doubt on the effectiveness of the department’s outreach, Ridley-Thomas said. He was particularly troubled that H1N1 flu billboards he had seen posted in African American neighborhoods like Crenshaw did not feature African Americans.

“Their campaign, from my point of view, has been botched,” Ridley-Thomas said. “They need to start from scratch.”

Residents in the South Los Angeles service area, where African Americans make up 32.4% of the population, received 7.73% of the vaccinations distributed at county clinics, according to public health figures. By comparison, residents in the San Gabriel service area received 24.09% of vaccinations and those in the San Fernando Valley service area received 17.97%.

Ridley-Thomas said those figures support what he saw at county-sponsored flu clinics in South Los Angeles: Few African American residents lined up for vaccines, while Asians traveled to the area from other neighborhoods to get vaccinated.

Fielding said public health officials have been surveying county residents by phone to assess the effectiveness of the department’s vaccination outreach. They are also working with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate county vaccination efforts, with results expected in coming months.

Fielding noted that county clinics vaccinated a proportionate number of Latinos and whites, as well as many of those most at risk -- including 8,679 pregnant women and 47,672 with chronic illnesses. It was not clear from the figures what the ethnic breakdown was for those at-risk groups.

“By and large, our approach was a good one in terms of targeting” those most at risk of catching H1N1 flu, Fielding said. “I wouldn’t say there’s any clear lessons except that we want to make sure we get representative numbers” of minorities vaccinated.

Overall, he said the department’s response was a success.

“We administered many more doses of vaccine than any other health department at a time when there was a lot of fear in the public and a lot of frustration about not being able to get it,” Fielding said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske