Monday, Oct. 02, 2023|
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Despite Hawaii’s high vaccination rates, keiki under 5 have not been showing up to get their shots.
State Department of Health data released Wednesday shows only 3% of those under 5 statewide have received a vaccination, somewhere between 2,500 and 2,800 children. For Hawaii County, that number is even lower — 1% for the under 5 age group.
“There has not been the rush among children less than 5 that I would’ve hoped for,” Dr. Todd Allen, chief quality officer for The Queen’s Health System, said Monday during a livestream. “It does look like it’s a different disease, a milder disease in children — except when it isn’t. We have yet to understand the long-term complications of COVID, even in our pediatric population. … I think the best decision here is for the vaccination ”
Vaccination rates for this group could increase in the coming weeks after the state’s departments of Health and Education jointly announced Tuesday that masks will no longer be mandatory for public and charter schools starting Aug. 1.
“We hope this will help parents, students and educators make decisions, like getting vaccinated now before the school year begins,” said State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble during the announcement. “I’d like to really remind parents, families and educators of how important and what a great tool the vaccine is. It’s still our best tool to reduce severe illness outcomes from COVID-19.”
The first booster shot also is available for those 5 and older.
“About 73% of students aged 12-17 have received their first two shots, but only 26% of them have received their boosters,” said Kemble.
For those 5-11, only 2% have received their first booster in Hawaii County. For the 12-17 age group, 20% received their first booster, and of those 18-24, 23% have received their first booster.
“You don’t know if a student in class sitting next to your child is going to be masking or not, so now is a really good time to boost,” she said. “If they’ve received their first two shots, but haven’t yet been boosted, go get their booster shots.”
Second booster doses are available for those above the age of 50 who received their first booster at least four months ago, but many in this group are not showing up either.
So far, just 15.9% of those in the 50-64 age group have received a second booster. Of those in the 65-74 age group, 78% received their first booster, and just 33.9% received a second one. And for those 75 and older, 82% received their first booster, but only 39.7% received their second booster.
Certain hesitations range from immunity resulting from previous infection to residents waiting on new vaccines targeting the recent subvarients, something Allen said could be coming in the near future.
“I do think we’re going to see new vaccine versions come out that are more customized to omicron, and that will be a big step forward,” he said, adding “the vaccines designed against that original strain still remain pretty effective against hospitalizations and death, and that’s important.”
This week, Hawaii County reported an increase in individuals who died from COVID-19, rising for the second week in a row. The two deaths included a man and a woman, both over the age of 80. Hospitalizations declined from 32 individuals to 20 this week, a lagging indicator of the previous omicron surge.
“Over 60% of those in our hospital are vaccinated, and again, it’s because omicron is just different,” Allen said. “Immunity wanes. It’s different enough where people get infected, and when you’re a little older and have chronic disease, it can sometimes be quite severe.”
There also has been an increase of the new BA.5 variant throughout the state and county. BA.5 is a subvariant of omicron that attacks the upper respiratory system resulting in a runny nose, cough and sore throat, a change from original lower lung symptoms associated with initial strains of COVID-19.
BA.5 is on an upward trajectory in Hawaii County, accounting for 4% of total COVID cases the week of June 4, and 17% by June 18. The increase follows a similar rising pattern that occurred during previous omicron surges.
“BA.4 and BA.5 will likely soon account for the majority of cases in Hawaii,” said DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr, who added BA.5 accounts for roughly 65% of total cases throughout the nation. “Unfortunately, BA.4 and BA.5 seem to be better at evading immunity from prior infection and vaccines, and can infect people who have already had COVID. Fortunately, the vaccines are still protecting people against severe illness.”
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