Report: COVID boosters lag as pandemic’s impacts on health, finances linger | News, Sports, Jobs

The Maui News

More Hawaii residents are contracting COVID-19, fewer are getting COVID-19 booster shots and the number of those impacted by long-COVID illnesses remain high, according to a new comprehensive report released on Thursday by researchers in the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

The report is based on survey responses from 1,627 Hawaii residents over the age of 18 in the fall of last year. In partnership with the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19, this was the second survey developed to inform the design and execution of public health programs in Hawaii for COVID-19 and other disasters while addressing systemic health disparities, according to a UH news release. Researchers have a statewide cohort of more than 2,000 adult residents in the state that are being surveyed regularly over time.

The first report was released on June 20 and was based on survey responses conducted in May.

The most recent report found:

• COVID-19 positivity has increased since the last report. In November, 45.5 percent of respondents had tested positive for COVID-19 at least once, compared to only 24.8 percent in May. Higher rates continue to be seen among younger adults, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino populations, as well as among unvaccinated and unboosted individuals.

• High vaccination rate and low booster shots among adults. Of the respondents, 94.5 percent are vaccinated but only 27 percent of the sample received the bivalent booster shot.

• Long-COVID outcomes remain high. The overall rate of long-COVID remained stable at close to 30 percent, but more individuals reported severe or very severe symptoms in the fall compared to the spring. The expected length of long-COVID symptoms increased by almost one month since the last report to 4.42 months.

• Flu shot uptake is correlated with COVID-19 vaccination. A total of 62 percent of respondents have already gotten their flu shots, with an additional 8.4 percent planning to get one. Of the COVID-vaccinated individuals, 77.3 percent have or plan to get a flu shot, compared to only 21.8 percent of those COVID-unvaccinated.

The report also found that perceptions of public safety against COVID-19 have risen. More people (68.7 percent) reported feeling safe or very safe in the fall survey compared to the spring survey (61 percent).

Some also reported COVID-19 fatigue, with the highest levels of exhaustion with the pandemic found among those who are unvaccinated and those who are vaccinated without booster shots.

Respondents also noted lingering impacts to their personal health, financial situations and employment. The report found that:

• The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase since May, with 28.6 percent of the individuals reporting having their savings depleted, 13.6 percent were unable to pay bills and 9 percent did not have enough food in their household. Also, 4.4 percent of the individuals lost their jobs, and 7.2 percent of the individuals were furloughed or reduced their working hours since May.

• Long-COVID is negatively affecting employment. Despite the rate of long-COVID being about 30 percent, unemployed individuals have a 47 percent rate of long-COVID, a 5-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 percent from 8.4 percent in May.

“Overall, as we enter a new phase of the pandemic, Hawaii’s populations are becoming more confident that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, driving COVID-19 booster uptake down,” said Ruben Juarez, HMSA endowed professor in health economics at UHERO. “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.”

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