EmblemHealth today released results from a national study, Living With COVID-19 Research conducted in February 2022, examining the public’s interpretation of a pandemic vs. endemic and their associated behaviors as they accept living with COVID long-term.

The study polled nearly 1,000 respondents nationwide but focused on the New York Tri-State Area, where EmblemHealth primarily operates. The data from the study will inform what the healthcare industry should consider in the next phase of the disease.

Overall, the study found that public attitudes toward prevention measures drastically change as awareness shifts to living with COVID long-term.

“Facing a growing sentiment of ‘COVID exhaustion,’ EmblemHealth drilled down into whether the public was ready to move from a global health crisis stance; to accepting COVID as the new long term normal,” said Dr. Richard Dal Col, MD, and Chief Medical Officer of EmblemHealth.

Image: EmblemHealth Infographic

Currently, adult vaccination rates have stalled: While 76% of adults are fully vaccinated, only 49% have received a COVID booster, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s April 2022 COVID Data Tracker.

Image: EmblemHealth Infographic

One big finding from the report was that people have a positive but mixed perception of “boosters.” They see the term synonymous with extra protection and maintenance but less preventive than an “immunization” and “vaccination.”

“Our research revealed that the public will practice fewer preventive behaviors in an endemic, at the same time the public primarily looks to and trusts clinical experts for direction, and words like “booster” [alone] do not incite public proactivity.”

Other Key Findings:

  • Consumers’ adherence to public health behaviors – such as wearing a mask, testing, quarantining and more are slated to be much lower in an endemic vs. in a pandemicclassification.
  • The term “pandemic” is very well understood. When asked to define “endemic,” around 1 in 4 persons expressed they are unfamiliar with the term. The remaining themes described it as when the pandemic/disease is contained to a particular geographical area, allowing people to live more commonly, like with the flu.
  • Slightly more than half of the respondents plan to wear a mask in an endemic, which is a 30% decline compared to in a pandemic. In a pandemic, 1 in 2 people plan to get a booster, while only 37% plan to get a booster in an endemic.
  • Consumers understand the term “booster,” but it is associated more with “extra” or “maintenance.” “Immunization” is associated more as “preventive,” “effective,” and “safe,” even by more hesitant groups.
  • Key behaviors that suppress the spread of disease — including quarantining and avoidance of others if tested positive — see drastic declines in an endemic compared to in a pandemic, with only 2 in 5 saying they will avoid seeing others if they test positive or quarantining if they experience symptoms.
  • Most respondents believe COVID-19 will become a seasonal disease like the flu and would be more receptive to getting an annual booster associated with a seasonal/yearly immunization rather than getting one, if at all, if COVID-19 becomes endemic. 

With a fourth COVID vaccine dose approved by the FDA, and now top infectious-disease experts stating the US is out of the pandemic phase, Leonard whose team oversees communications for EmblemHealth and its medical practice, AdvantageCare Physicians, suggests medical experts and communicators support vaccine rollouts by connecting the importance of “boosters” to keeping up with one’s COVID-19 vaccinations.

Image: EmblemHealth Infographic

Also, heath care insiders should consider increasing the use of terms like “immunizations and vaccinations” as opposed to only relaying to the public “boosters,” “shots,” or “jabs in the arm” — terms found to cause feelings of fear, pain, and potential side effects–especially among hesitant populations. In addition, stakeholders in health care should be cautious when using the word “endemic” to promote public safety behaviors in the current and future phases of COVID-19. 

For more results from EmblemHealth’s study, view the Research White Paper.

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