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In the United States, certain communities tend to be "hot spots" for influenza infections. People who don't live in these disadvantaged communities, however, are more likely to come down with the flu when the needs of the poor are neglected.

When Italian doctors first identified the disease we know as the flu over 500 years ago, they believed, in accordance with the medical theory of their day, that "influenza" was due to the influence of the stars. Malefic stars appeared in the skies in December, about the same time as people started getting the flu, therefore influenza was due to the "influenza" of bad astrological omens.

Over the next few hundred years, the "influence" that caused the flu was reconsidered, and the condition was linked first to chills and cold, and then to viral infection. The modern reality is, however, that influence of a different sort may determine whether or not your home town has high rates of flu infections. Cities and towns with the greatest political influence, at least in the United States, have the lowest rates of flu infections. 

What Political Influence Has to Do with the Flu

Although many people are skeptical of the value of flu shots, the fact is, where more people get flu shots, fewer people catch flu. And when fewer people catch flu, fewer people pass on the infection to others.

Public health officials always advise people at greatest risk for complications of catching flu to get immunizations early. The young, the old, women who may become pregnant, and people of all ages who have chronic health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, are urged to get flu shots first.

The distribution of flu vaccine, however, is not made on the basis who needs it most. Flu shots tend to go where they make doctors the most money from their patients.

During the H1N1 influenza scare of 2009, for example, flu vaccine was in shortage. The US Department of Health and Human Services allocated the 11,422,900 available doses to all 50 states and the various American territories so that the neediest could be treated first, or at least that was the theory.

By October 14, 2009, only 5,885,900 doses had been shipped. Of those five million doses, 800,000, or about 1/6, were shipped to California, even though California only has about 1/10 of the USA's total population. 

In California, some locations received much more vaccine than others. The wealthy and well-insured residents of Beverly Hills, for example, received enough vaccine to immunize 50% of its population. Poverty-prone South Los Angeles,  on the other hand, only received enough vaccine to vaccine 20% of its population.

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  • Lee BY, Brown ST, Bailey RR, Zimmerman RK, Potter MA, McGlone SM, Cooley PC, Grefenstette JJ, Zimmer SM, Wheaton WD, Quinn SC, Voorhees RE, Burke DS.The benefits to all of ensuring equal and timely access to influenza vaccines in poor communities. Health Aff (Millwood). 2011 Jun. 30(6):1141-50. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2010.0778.
  • Savolainen-Kopra C, Haapakoski J, Peltola PA, Ziegler T, Korpela T, Anttila P, Amiryousefi A, Huovinen P, Huvinen M, Noronen H, Riikkala P, Roivainen M, Ruutu P, Teirilä J, Vartiainen E, Hovi T.Trials. 2012 Jan 16. 13:10. doi:10.1186/1745-621,5-13-10.
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