Hawaii officials are preparing to immunize about 44,000 high-risk residents against COVID-19 starting as early as next month, while urging even greater vigilance against the virus’ spread until the broader population has access to a vaccine.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said Friday it had filed an application for emergency use of its coronavirus vaccine with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as cases skyrocket on the mainland heading into the winter months. Drugmaker Moderna also is expected to apply soon for emergency authorization.
If the two vaccines are authorized for emergency use, officials have said the first shots could come as early as next month. However, the first supplies will be scarce and rationed, with experts warning it likely will be spring before there’s enough for everyone.
“It’s very good news. We are prepared to accept vaccinations from the federal government as soon as they are fully approved,” with a two-dose vaccine initially given to hospitals for first responders, health care providers and the most vulnerable kupuna, Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star- Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii webcast. “We will make it available as fast as possible. We’ll take anything we can get as long as it’s safe.”
What’s more, “hundreds of thousands of doses” would hopefully be available as early as March for other vulnerable residents with chronic diseases. Healthy and younger residents unlikely to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms would be part of the final immunization group.
The state hopes to get as much as 60% to 70% of the population vaccinated in order to reach so-called herd immunity.
While residents will still need to follow preventive measures, including wearing face masks and social distancing, “everything starts getting easier as we develop immunity — that’s the hope,” Green added.
“So when we come to the end of spring … a large chunk of our society has gotten immunity, then we won’t be worried so much about travel and small outbreaks.”
Health officials reported one new coronavirus death — a Hawaii inmate in his 60s with underlying medical conditions at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona — and 95 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 224 fatalities and 16,936 cases.
Seventy of the new cases were on Oahu, 13 on Hawaii island, five on Maui and one on Kauai; six were Hawaii residents diagnosed while outside the state.
Also Friday, the Department of Education released its weekly COVID report, showing 16 new cases involving students or staff sprinkled throughout the school system on three islands. Four cases involved students who had not been on campus all year.
Since June 26, the DOE has reported 255 coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, the U.S. coronavirus death toll surpassed 253,000, with daily national COVID-19 fatalities reaching levels that have not been seen since May.
Of Hawaii’s total infection count, 1,301 cases are considered active cases.
With Thanksgiving next week, Green is urging residents to celebrate with people in their own households because “that’s the safest thing to do,” or at the least with those in their traditional bubbles.
“I know people are inclined to have large Thanksgiving dinners. It’s sad to miss people, but let’s get through this holiday season healthy so that we can celebrate the next one,” he said. “We don’t want to see a big surge after Thanksgiving. People have to search their own heart and decide what risk they’re going to take.”