By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff
Racial and ethnic minorities in Massachusetts have been hospitalized and died of swine flu at an elevated rate, underscoring the need for people to continue be vaccinated since there is now ample supply of vaccine, state officials said today.
State data collected since the outbreak began last spring show that blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the state experienced between two and four times the rates of H1N1, and have also borne the brunt of serious complications from the disease.
It is not known why those populations have suffered more, but $1 million in federal funding will be routed to support outreach efforts to increase awareness and reduce barriers to vaccination among vulnerable populations.
To emphasize the ease, safety, and necessity of getting the H1N1 vaccine, top health and state officials rolled up their left sleeve for a public vaccination this morning.
"I want to urge everyone to do what I'm going to do," Governor Deval Patrick said, before sitting down and looking away as a needle was jabbed into his upper arm.
Patrick was joined by Dr. Howard Koh, the nation's assistant secretary for health, and Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, the state's secretary of health and human services.
"Everyday events around the city and indeed around the world remind us our health is a precious gift," said Koh, referring to the disaster in Haiti as a reminder of how fragile health can be. "We need to seize this opportunity for prevention. Don't wait. Don't hesitate."
The state data showed that racial and ethnic minorities were over-represented in the 1,912 cases of H1N1 confirmed in lab tests -- such tests are not done in most cases, so the actual number or swine flu cases is much higher -- and in hospitalizations and deaths. Hispanics were hospitalized three times more often than whites, blacks were hospitalized more than four times as often, and Asians were hospitalized 1.5 times more often.
Among the 29 deaths in the state from H1N1, each group was also overrepresented. Hispanics had death rates nearly six times higher than white counterparts, Blacks had death rates more than three times higher than whites, and Asians had death rates more than four times higher.
"It's very important people understand it's helpful to be vaccinated. It can prevent illness and death," Bigby said.
Even as the active cases of flu have declined since the peak of H1N1 activity in the fall, health officials reiterated the importance of the vaccine, especially since flu season can last until May.
Some local clinics reported that they have not seen interest in the vaccine drop off.
"Demand has not seemed to wane here in Brookline -- we had a sellout clinic last week," said Dr. Alan Balsam, the public health commissioner for Brookline. About 3,500 people have been vaccinated in Brookline, he said, not counting people who may have received the vaccine from private providers.
"Until the clinic a week ago, we were restricting who could get the vaccine" to high-risk groups, Balsam said. "Now, as of two weeks ago, it is open to anyone who wants to get it. That would probably explain the heightened demand."
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|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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