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Higher numbers: Flu rates hitting harder for certain demographic groups in Virginia

Lower vaccination rates among racial and ethnic minority groups mean a higher risk of hospitalization.

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia is one of just 11 states with ‘very high’ flu activity this year.

Combine that with other respiratory illnesses, and hospitals are stretched thin.

“I’m an ICU doctor, and I was working in the ICU last weekend and we’re seeing a lot of ICU admissions for the flu," said Dr. Jamie Garfield with the American Lung Association. 

The flu is hitting children hard.

In the commonwealth, kids in the age group of 0-4 are going to the doctor with flu-like symptoms more than any other age group.

At Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, only one ICU bed was available at the start of December, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Doctors like Garfield are seeing a variety of respiratory illnesses, including the flu, COVID-19 and RSV. 

“We recommend everyone over the age of 6 months is vaccinated against flu. There’s no vaccine against RSV, but if you yourself have been vaccinated against these common respiratory illnesses, it’s less likely that you’ll bring anything home to your child," Garfield said.

Dr. Garfield said most people hospitalized for the flu have underlying conditions or never got the vaccine.

Health data shows disparities in who traditionally gets the shot.

Last year, 54% of white adults got the flu vaccine, compared to 42% of Black adults and 38% of Hispanic/Latino adults.

“There’s lower vaccination rates across all diseases in racial and ethnic minorities, but that’s especially true for COVID and influenza," Garfield said. 

“Because less people are vaccinated, there’s more severe disease, more severe hospitalizations and higher mortality.”

Credit: CDC

Garfield said that one shot can make all the difference for areas like Hampton Roads, where flu season is off a fast start.

It takes a few weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, so doctors urge anyone over the age of 6 months looking for protection around Christmas and New Years to get the shot now.

Click here for more information about the flu vaccine.

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