Report details COVID racial, ethnic disparities

  • KEMBLE

Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino communities have been the most adversely affected by COVID-19, according to a new report released Tuesday by the state Department of Health.

The report, titled “COVID-19 in Hawaii: Addressing Health Equity in Diverse Populations,” details racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths in the state, and efforts taken to reduce virus transmissions.

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The DOH also released new data regarding the number of vaccines administered, broken down by race and ethnicity, which further highlights the disparities among those populations.

According to the report, between March 8, 2020, and Jan. 31, 44% of the 18,045 COVID-19 cases identified by race or ethnicity were concentrated among Pacific Islander and Filipino groups.

Pacific Islanders make up 4% of Hawaii’s population but 24% of all COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, 7.5% of people who identify as Pacific Islander have been diagnosed with COVID-19, more than any other ethnic or racial group.

Native Hawaiians are 21% of the population but constituted 19% of coronavirus cases.

However, only 8.8% of those who identified as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine compared to 25.4% of Asians, 19.2% of white residents and 6.4% of Black residents.

Similarly, Hawaii’s Filipino population makes up 16% of the state’s residents but accounted for 20% of cases during that time frame.

“Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to work and live in environments that increase their risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the report states. “Collectively, these three groups make up nearly half of the essential workforce in Hawaii, especially in the tourism, hospitality, retail and food industries.”

These groups also are more likely to live in large, multi-generational households and denser neighborhoods than other racial and ethnic groups, and have higher rates of chronic diseases that could make them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19.

The disparities, though, are nothing new.

“COVID-19 racial and ethnic inequities are linked to long-standing health inequities in cultural communities, including for Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos,” said acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble during a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday.

Preliminary data on vaccination rates categorized by race follows that trend, Kemble said, and before the availability of vaccines, the DOH found that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have “relatively high hesitancy” toward getting vaccinated.

And because of the initial age- and employment-based prioritization of vaccine distribution, Kemble said a smaller number of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders were eligible for vaccination.

But as the state’s vaccine prioritization categories open up, more are eligible to become vaccinated.

Kemble, though, said the data is just a “starting point” and is currently constrained by what the department can derive from the federal Vaccine Administration Management System.

“The national system does not disaggregate the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities at this time,” she said. “We do want to do this and will be working to develop a more detailed breakdown to add to this preliminary data.”

More data will be available in the coming weeks.

Other considerations, such as income level, education level, access to care and geography, are not represented in the current data, said Kemble.

“All of these things come into play when addressing vaccination disparities,” she said. “In addition, cultural and ethnic values, vaccine acceptance and mobility are all issues that may contribute to the disparities.”

According to a news release, the DOH and a group of community partners are leveraging federal and state resources to expand outreach into these communities.

That outreach work includes, among other things:

• Collaborating with and funding for community-based organizations that have native language speakers to provide outreach within the Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino speaking populations.

• Translating vaccination guidance, consent and public education materials in up to 16 languages.

• Building relationships with leaders and representatives of Pacific Islander faith communities and providing virtual town hall meetings and answering questions.

• Providing online vaccine fact sheets and screening questions in more than 16 languages and materials are regularly updated.

• Prioritizing support for federally qualified health care centers to prepare for vaccine administration.

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The full report can be found online at hawaiicovid19.com/equity. Vaccine data by race will be updated daily on the DOH’s COVID-19 data dashboard.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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