Iti Salun-At Yo

The Delta Variant of COVID Makes an Impact On Filipinos In Hawai‘i

Errol Buntuyan, M.D.

Unfortunately, this current delta variant of the COVID virus is making a tremendous impact on our Filipino community. The data at the end of August 2021 reveal Filipinos make up 19 percent of COVID infections in Hawai‘i, second only to the Native Hawaiian population for ethnic minorities contracting the disease. We come in second overall for hospitalizations in Hawai‘i at 22 percent behind the Pacific Islander population. Filipinos make up the largest group of people in Hawai‘i in the number of deaths from COVID comprising 23 percent of lives lost to COVID.

Our community is at extreme risk for further illness and death from COVID. We know this risk is completely preventable. More than nine out of ten people being hospitalized and that die from COVID are unvaccinated. If more of our Filipino community were to receive the COVID vaccinations, we could prevent this virus from causing more debilitating sickness and death.

There are many who have chosen not to get vaccinated in our community. Sharing the following facts may help inform those who are hesitant to vaccinate. People need to know the risks of not getting vaccinated as well as the nuances of this delta variant which makes this strain more worrisome.

Current data confirm the unvaccinated are five times more likely to get infected with COVID. There is twenty-nine times the increased risk of getting hospitalized with severe COVID illness for those that are unvaccinated versus those vaccinated. The unvaccinated are fifteen times more likely to die than the vaccinated.

There are three words that describe the delta variant: quick, sick, and fast.

We have known for months this variant is more contagious and thus infection can happen very QUICK. This variant is more focused to attack the nasal and oral mucosa upon exposure and replicates at a rate 1000 times faster than previous strains. This large amount of virus in the nose and mouth can be passed quickly to others nearby with each breath. Infected individuals often start feeling symptoms of nasal and throat symptoms in as fast as three days. Wearing a mask and keeping physically distant are important to provide a barrier of protection and distance from transmitting and receiving infected respiratory droplets.

Though vaccinated and previously infected people have antibodies to COVID, they often do not have enough IgA antibodies in the mucosa to neutralize the virus during the first few days after infection. Thus the vaccinated can potentially spread the virus should they get infected. The good news is recent studies have shown vaccinated and previously infected individuals have much milder symptoms, are less sick, are unlikely to get hospitalized and will neutralize and clear the infection in just a few days. Please see the testimonial from Rod Antone who fortunately was fully vaccinated when he got infected with COVID in August.

Those that are COVID vaccinated and previously infected can mount the proper immune response from their antibodies, T cells and memory B cells. The unvaccinated do not have these layers of protection and will have to suffer through the entire course of the disease which can last over ten days.

Symptoms with this variant of COVID are more severe and people are feeling more SICK. Because the viral loads are so high from the rapid replication, those infected are overwhelmed with the number of viruses attacking the mucosal and lung cells of the respiratory system. The symptoms of sore throat, sinus congestion, headache, fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, fever, etc. are more intense and severe especially for the unvaccinated because they lack the proper immune cells to fight off the virus. People are seeking medical care in the emergency rooms and getting admitted to hospitals for treatment because of these overwhelming symptoms upon getting infected.

The delta variant of COVID has been spreading and growing FAST during this surge of infections. One infected person with minimal or no symptoms can spread the disease to infect seven to nine others. The previous COVID strains would only spread to two to three people. In our Filipino community of multigenerational homes living in close quarters, a fast-spreading virus can move through entire households of all ages in a matter of days. Turning positive and being sick from COVID will guarantee a ten-day quarantine from work or school. Many folks simply cannot afford to stay home and miss work or school. Keep in mind that up to thirty percent of those infected can get long COVID symptoms of brain fog, fatigue and cough and can be out of work or school for months.

The strain on our healthcare professionals on Maui has been tremendous. Nurses, doctors, physician assistants and support teams have been battling COVID for over eighteen months and are emotionally fatigued. We have had safe and effective vaccines against this virus available since late December of 2020. Pfizer is now FDA approved. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see those that have declined vaccination (mostly under 60 years old and previously healthy population) contract COVID and suffer from horrible symptoms. This could all have been avoided. Local clinics are overwhelmed with testing requests, questions about exposures, and symptom management advice of COVID illness. Hospitals and emergency rooms are full of severely ill and dying patients from COVID infection.

The Filipino Association of Maui Doctors urge everyone eligible to get vaccinated. We have cared for the members of our community for many years. Seeing our community members get sick because they have not been immunized is devastating. The vaccines will protect you from feeling the harsh symptoms of COVID infection. Vaccination will provide the antibodies and immune cells to stop COVID from causing severe symptoms and hospitalization as it did for Rod Antone and many others. The only way we can lower the risk of further spread is from changing our behavior. We need to wear our masks, stay physically distant, limit indoor gatherings and most importantly get vaccinated.

Why should you put yourself and your loved ones at risk for COVID infection?

If you are not vaccinated, do so now. If you have loved ones who are unvaccinated, please tell them to protect themselves from getting the disease and avoid facing the risks of being hospitalized or dying from COVID illness. The time to act is now. Changing our behavior during this surge is the only way we can stop COVID from continuing to ravage our Filipino community and get us back to some state of normalcy in our lives.

Errol Buntuyan, M.D. is a Family Medicine Practitioner and the Physician in Charge of Maui Primary Care at Kaiser Permanente. Born in Quezon City and raised in Southern California, he has been practicing medicine on Maui since 2007. Dr. Buntuyan promotes whole food, plant based nutrition, regular physical activity, stress mindfulness and sleep hygiene as keys to optimum health and wellness. He enjoys cooking, playing tennis and travel.