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Editorial: Public trust key to vaccine rollout

The expected arrival of a vaccine approximately at year’s end shines as a bright spot after the many tragic months of 2020 marked by COVID-19.

This, however, is only the beginning of the end of this pandemic. It will take time before most sectors of the population can be inoculated, the pace accelerating in February through May.

And it is not a magic bullet: The early vaccines are typically of somewhat limited effectiveness. Many people will need some convincing of its safety, in order for the risk of disease transmission to be suppressed.

In short, much more work is required of Hawaii’s people — for many months of continued mask-wearing to come — before anything like “normal life” can resume.

The first stage of that task began on Thursday, with the unveiling of a draft vaccination distribution plan by Gov. David Ige and the state Department of Health. Similar rollouts by states have happened nationwide, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had set an Oct. 16 deadline for states to submit plans for review.

Challenges are looming on a number of fronts. One is a fiscal shortfall: Ige said the $800,000 in federal funds provided for Hawaii’s distribution efforts is not enough, adding the state is requesting more. Considering that there are myriad costs associated with the campaign, including adequate storage for the vaccine doses, additional funds will be crucial.

The draft includes a framework for four stages of the distribution, the priority placed on the population groups that are most at risk, for a range of reasons. The state also will consider “local community factors” that could be changing over time.

This is critical, because there are people here who, due to cultural and language barriers and housing conditions, may need particular attention. Lt. Gov. Josh Green acknowledged that groups that have figured in recent outbreaks, including the Pacific Islander community, could be accommodated earlier to help reduce that vulnerability.

But in general, the framework makes sense. The first to receive the vaccine would include health-care workers and first responders who have greater exposure to the coronavirus causing COVID-19. Also on top: Hawaii residents with underlying health conditions putting them at high risk, as well as seniors age 65 and older living in group settings.

Further down in line for the vaccine:

>> Teachers and school staff for grades K-12; essential workers at high risk of exposure; those with conditions putting them at moderate risk; people in homeless shelters; residents with disabilities and staff in group homes; those in prisons, jails and detention centers and staff; other adults 65 and older.

>> Young adults (ages 18-22), children, employees in other workplaces important to functioning society at increased risk.

>> All others needing access to the vaccine.

The work of vetting the new vaccines is a local as well as national effort, and it’s good to see that diverse populations are being tested. A Hawaii research group (eastwestresearch.com) has enlisted Hawaii volunteers to be part of one clinical trial.

It’s also encouraging that the four companies now in late-stage clinical trials of vaccines have made public assurances that the thorough testing protocols are not being shortchanged.

Getting the messaging right will be crucial, given growing fears that the trials have been rushed, evidence to the contrary. Roughly 60-70% of the population must be immunized to allow a more aggressive return to business and social activity.

Overcoming these public fears will be a hard but necessary part of putting this pandemic behind us at last.

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