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Residents urged to get up-to-date flu and COVID vaccinations

The state Department of Health recommends residents get up-to-date COVID-19 and flu vaccinations before the upcoming holiday season.

“We often see surges of COVID-19 and flu during the holiday season due to increased travel and social gatherings,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said in a statement . “The DOH recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older receive the updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines to protect themselves and others, especially our kupuna and those who are immunocompromised.”

Uptake of the latest COVID-19 vaccine, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on September 12, has been low in the United States.

At last check, only 7% of adults and 2% of children in the United States had received the COVID-19 vaccine targeting the newer variants.

In Hawaii, an estimated 98,738 doses of the updated vaccine have been administered, according to DOH data from voluntary reporting through Wednesday, representing nearly 7% of the state’s population.

There appears to be little sense of urgency six months after the United States declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

In January, a study from the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization found that COVID-19 fatigue had already set in and that more than a third of respondents perceived the pandemic to be over for their personal life.

Thus, most residents have not rushed to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even among those who are receptive to it.

Kaiser Permanente Hawaii confirmed a 6% drop in vaccination rates this year compared to last year. COVID-19 vaccines are available to all members ages 6 months and older at Kaiser clinics, without an appointment.

Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group offers the updated COVID-19 vaccines at his clinics for children and adults.

He recommends them to all his patients, but will also make them available to non-patients.

Interest among its patients ages 65 and older who have already been vaccinated is high, but low among its younger patients.

“I would say the interest in people under 50 is almost non-existent,” he said. “Some may have a two-shot series at the very beginning and say, ‘You know, I’ve had COVID twice and I’ve already been vaccinated,’ and they just don’t want to do it. They think they are protected.

There are other patients who say they are not worried because they do not feel COVID-19 poses a threat to their health.

Miscovich said he then explains why this updated vaccine is different from those rolled out in 2020.

He also reminds patients that illnesses such as diabetes or being overweight put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, saying many don’t realize it.

The recently updated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccines target the XBB lineages of the omicron variant, which the DOH reported in September accounted for the majority of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii.

The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older receive the updated vaccines to protect against serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Federal health officials have also dropped the term “booster” and are calling COVID-19 vaccines “vaccines” in an effort to help people understand that they are updated, just like the COVID-19 vaccine. influenza is updated every year.

According to Miscovich, those who were last vaccinated a year ago have minimal protection because immunity wanes, and does so even more quickly for those who are older or immunocompromised.

The bumpy rollout of new vaccines to the commercial market nationwide hasn’t helped either.

In September, some residents seeking vaccinations at CVS Pharmacy’s Longs Drugs were told they were not covered by the Hawaii Medical Service Association, one of the state’s largest insurers, and that they would have to pay up to $200 out of pocket.

HMSA said there was a delay in coverage due to technical issues, which have since been resolved. But residents then faced last-minute canceled appointments at pharmacies due to supply issues. Some parents are also struggling to get their younger children vaccinated against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s weekly infection and hospitalization rates have declined compared to summer rates.

On Wednesday, the DOH reported an average of 69 new COVID-19 cases per day and an average positivity rate of 7.3%, down from 8.0% reported the previous week.

Hospitals reported an average of 50 COVID-19 patients per day, with little change over five weeks.

But COVID-19 deaths continue to rise, and with 10 more deaths reported Wednesday, Hawaii’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 2,075. Most of the deaths have occurred among elderly residents 65 years and over.

Tracking COVID-19 metrics has also become difficult as more residents turn to at-home testing instead of PCR tests, which are not reported to the state.

With a lower volume of clinical samples to sequence, the DOH State Lab says it is releasing COVID-19 variant reports once every four weeks instead of every two weeks to provide data more significant.

Wastewater monitoring was also blocked due to a contract dispute between the CDC and Biobot Analytics, which was tracking and sampling Hawaii’s wastewater for the virus until September.

The CDC opted to switch to Verily, owned by Alphabet Inc. Biobot protested the price, and testing of Hawaii’s wastewater will be delayed until it has been adjudicated, the DOH said.

As long as the coronavirus continues to circulate, it will continue to evolve, with the omicron HV.1 variant now dominant in the United States. That’s why it’s important to get the updated vaccine, Miscovich said.

He expects an uptick in cases around the holidays — on an annual and seasonal basis — due to an increase in gatherings, especially with fewer people in masks. COVID-19 has not gone away, he said.

“If you’re going to be with your kupuna, you have to be sensitive, think that he’s at risk and you have to be careful,” he said. “Please get vaccinated. Think of it as a virus that is now with us forever. People over 65 are at risk.

Gn Health

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