Report: COVID-19 booster vaccinations lag as negative impacts from virus widen
A new comprehensive report by researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization, or UHERO, finds more of the state’s residents are contracting COVID-19, fewer are getting COVID booster shots and the number of those impacted by long-COVID illnesses remains high.
The report was released Thursday and is based on responses from 1,627 adult Hawaiʻi residents to a survey administered in partnership with the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19 during fall 2022. Researchers have a statewide cohort of more than 2,000 residents who are surveyed regularly.
This was the second survey developed to inform the design and execution of public health programs in the state for COVID and other disasters while addressing systemic health disparities. The first report was released June 20, 2022, and was based on survey responses in May last year.
Highlights of the Jan. 5 report include:
COVID outcomes and vaccination
- COVID positivity has increased since the last report. In November, 45.5% of respondents had tested positive for COVID at least once compared to only 24.8% in May. Higher rates continue to be seen among younger adults and Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino populations, as well as unvaccinated and unboosted individuals.
- High vaccination rate and low booster shots among adults; 94.5% of respondents are vaccinated but only 27% received the bivalent booster shot.
- Long-COVID outcomes remain high. The overall rate of long-COVID remained stable at close to 30%, but more individuals reported severe or very severe symptoms in the fall compared with the spring. The expected length of long-COVID symptoms increased to 4.42 months, a spike of about one month, since the last report.
- Flu shot uptake is correlated with COVID vaccination; 62% of respondents already got their flu shots with an additional 8.4% planning to get one, while 77.3% of vaccinated individuals have or plan to get a flu shot. Just 21.8% of those unvaccinated plan to get a flu shot.
Perceptions and views of COVID
- Perceptions of neighborhood/community safety against COVID have risen. More people, 68.7% of respondents, felt safe or very safe in the fall compared to 61% in the spring.
- Some people feel COVID fatigue. Signs of COVID fatigue are present, with the highest levels found among those unvaccinated and those vaccinated without booster shots.
- The impact of the pandemic continues to increase since May of last year, with 28.6% of the individuals responding to the survey reporting that their savings have been depleted, 13.6% unable to pay bills and 9% without enough food in their household. During the same time period, 4.4% of respondents lost their jobs and 7.2% were furloughed or reduced their working hours.
- Long-COVID is negatively affecting employment. Despite the rate of long-COVID being about 30%, unemployed people have a 47% rate of long-COVID, a five-point increase since May.
- Depression symptoms remain high but stable. Rates of depression symptoms remained stable since May, at about 1 in 3 adults reporting depression symptoms, with higher levels of depression reported by those affected by the pandemic.
- Race disparities were observed in mental health outcomes. Korean and Japanese respondents had the best mental health outcomes, while Native Hawaiian, Latino and Native American respondents had the lowest mental health outcomes.
- Food insecurity remained high but stable. The percentage of respondents reporting low food security reduced slightly to 8.2% from 8.4% in May.
“Overall, as we enter a new phase of the pandemic, Hawaiʻi’s populations are becoming more confident that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, driving COVID-19 booster uptake down,” said Ruben Juarez, Hawaiʻi Medical Service Association endowed professor in health economics at UHERO, in a press release. “Significant impacts exacerbated by the pandemic, including long-COVID, mental health issues and the impact of long-COVID on unemployment, may pose significant challenges that warrant monitoring.”
The Hawaiʻi Department of Health on Wednesday reported 1,316 new COVID cases, bringing the statewide total to 373,514 cases since the pandemic began. There were 148 new cases reported on the Big Island. There now have been a total of 41,709 COVID cases reported on Hawai’i Island since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nearly 1,800 COVID deaths had been reported statewide as of Wednesday.
Click here for more from the UHERO report.