A new series of public health reports from the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization shows that almost 2 in 3 adults in Hawaiʻi experienced adverse impacts — beyond the disease itself — from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reports show those adults who responded to a survey reported negative effects on mental health, food security, job security, housing and poverty. Almost 1 in 10 has had a family member die because of COVID. The information comes from a survey cohort that provided responses in May. The surveys are being conducted monthly through a partnership with the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19.
“We’ve recruited a cohort of more than 2,000 adults throughout the state to help us understand these issues,” Ruben Juarez, economics professor in UH-Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences and newly appointed HMSA Endowed Professor of Health Economics at UHERO, said in a press release. “Using monthly surveys deployed rapidly to this cohort, we can collect data on health, social factors, attitudes and behaviors over time and monitor changes that could inform public health policy.”
Highlights from the June UHERO report include:
- Vaccination rate and booster shots among adults: Hawaiʻi is leading the nation with the highest vaccination rate. More than 93.3% of respondents were vaccinated, while 6.7% remain unvaccinated. Among those vaccinated, 53.4% received one booster shot, 31.6% received two or more booster shots and 15% have not received a booster shot.
- COVID-19 positivity and estimated immunity: 1 in 4 individuals reported a confirmed COVID positive test. Almost 50% of unvaccinated individuals have been infected with COVID. In addition, individuals who received a booster shot are 46% less likely to be infected than those who did not. It is estimated that more than 95.9% of adults have some degree of immunity to the virus because of infection or vaccination.
- Negative effects of COVID-19 have been significant: 23% of those who responded had their savings depleted, 18% had trouble with the education of their children, 15% were unable to pay rent, 12% were laid off or had their work hours reduced, 12% had a friend who died and 9% had a family member who died.
- Mental health: More than 1 in 3 adults reported symptoms of depression, 11% of adults reported low self-esteem and about 4% of adults in the cohort had suicidal thoughts during the past year. Unvaccinated individuals are more likely to experience mental health problems than vaccinated individuals.
- Food insecurity: More than 20% of adults reported low or very low food security. Individuals who got infected with COVID and those unvaccinated experienced more food insecurity.
- Characteristics of the unvaccinated population: Unvaccinated individuals tend to be younger and have lower education levels than vaccinated individuals. Less than 4% of individuals with a bachelor’s degree reported to be unvaccinated. In contrast, individuals who just completed high school vs. those who did not complete high school reported unvaccinated rates of 14% and 41%, respectively.
- Long-COVID: Almost 1 in 3 adults in Hawaiʻi who were infected with COVID experienced symptoms of long-COVID; 58% of the symptoms were cough and shortness of breath, 49% fatigue, 48% mental fog or headaches, 25% joint or chest pain and 24% loss of taste or smell. The average length of symptoms differed by vaccination status. Unvaccinated individuals with long-COVID experienced symptoms for about five months post-infection, whereas vaccinated and boosted individuals reported an average of about three months.
The UHERO Public Health Reports series is designed to systematically understand adversities by providing Hawaiʻi leaders and their communities with data to inform the design and execution of public health programs. Future reports will cover a variety of timely topics related to public health and policy.
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