Children’s Hospital program brought flu vaccines to underserved areas

Published on March 17th, 2022 by Christina Echegaray.

Before flu season was underway in Middle Tennessee, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt doctors and nurses went on a mission to protect children from the virus before it arrived.

The team, led by pediatrician Elizabeth Williams, MD, MPH, dubbed its project “The Mobile Flu Fighter!” The pilot project aimed to bring flu vaccines and education into Nashville’s communities where flu vaccine uptake is lower, particularly among Black children. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center Office of Health Equity provided grant funding to support the initiative.

“In our primary care clinic on DOT 8 in Children’s Hospital, we looked at our uptake of flu vaccine among patients, and we found that there is a big disparity between patients who are Black/African American and all other races, as far as uptake of the flu vaccine. As a team we developed a health equity flu vaccine team, and we were trying to reduce this disparity,” said Williams, assistant professor of Pediatrics.

In a review of flu vaccine uptake rates among pediatric patients of the Primary Care Clinic, the team found that about 61.6% of Black pediatric patients received the vaccine compared to 87.6% of white pediatric patients.

Focus groups with mothers revealed why they were hesitant to get the flu vaccine for their children.

“One of the biggest things to come out of the focus group was trust — just the sense of trust with the providers. And there is also still a lot of misinformation about what the flu vaccine is, if it can cause the flu and whether you even need it, especially since it is not required for school,” Williams said.

The Mobile Flu Fighter! unit identified different ZIP codes where there were lower flu vaccination rates among the DOT 8

pediatric patient population.

During four community-based, family-friendly events, the volunteer team of physicians, nurses, coordinators and residents traveled in The Mobile Flu Fighter! van with their vaccination supplies and information to each site. In total, the group vaccinated about 50 children.

Educating families about the vaccine was an important part of the initiative.

“We want parents to know that flu is one of the more serious viral illnesses out there, and it causes kids to be hospitalized; every year kids die from the flu. The flu vaccine is safe, and you cannot get the flu from the vaccine,” Williams said.

The Mobile Flu Fighter! team will assess and evaluate strategies used and consider how to proceed next year, possibly combining forces with other similar initiatives around Vanderbilt to grow the project.

People and teams involved in the pilot project include: Barron Patterson, MD, Kelly Moore, Meredith Denney, the VUMC Health Equity Team, and many others.