It's almost flu season, and young Floridians are not as protected as they should be. According to a new analysis, almost half of Florida's high school students reported they didn't get a flu shot within the past year.
"I would say I'm a bit frustrated," said Dr. Wissam Al Khoury, the lead researcher on the study, Demographic Differences in Flu Vaccination among Florida’s High School Students: Evidence from 2017 Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which he recently presented at a conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The federal goal for flu vaccination coverage among teens, outlined in Healthy People 2020, is 70 percent. When Al Khoury looked at high school students' responses to a biennial health survey conducted by the Florida Department of Health, he saw there were groups of students who had particularly low rates of flu shots: female students (53.3 percent), black students (26.8 percent), Hispanic students (20.8 percent), and students who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (54 percent). He also found students were less likely to get flu shots as they got older.
The stakes are high; last year's flu season was one of the deadliest on record for children. The CDC reported about 80 percent of the children who died from flu had not been vaccinated against it.
Among the Florida high schoolers who did get the shots, more reported getting them at a doctor's office than anywhere else. Al Khoury suggests this is a signal that other institutions need to step up in the fight against flu.
"More effort should be done by the Health Department, the pharmacies and the schools," he said.
To that end, a number of Florida school districts--including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward--have partnered with Healthy Schools, a Jacksonville-based organization that distributes free flu shots in schools.
"We're bringing them into the schools where [the students] already are," said Katie Luebker, director of operations for Healthy Schools. She pointed out there are barriers to getting kids vaccines outside of school--particularly for kids who don't have insurance or who have to work after school.
Healthy Schools works with the federally-funded Vaccines for Children program and kids' own insurance plans to provide vaccines at no cost to students or school districts. Luebker hopes to vaccinate close to 300,000 Florida children this year.
For anyone looking for a place to get a flu shot outside of school, the CDC has a vaccine finder tool: