Hawaii made its first test order of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday as cases surged throughout the country and the state remained on high alert for a potential third wave of infections.
The initial order of 4,875 vaccines is expected to arrive this month, pending approval of the vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Health Department spokesman Brooks Baehr.
“Of course, it’s just the first of what will be other orders that we expect to happen in the month of December. Once the green light is given, we can place additional orders we expect would arrive within 48-72 hours,” he said. “This is our test run. This will help us prepare for future deliveries. We just want to make sure that this stuff arrives intact, and when it gets here, we know exactly how to handle it. We want to make sure that none of this precious cargo is wasted once we kick into high gear.”
The FDA is scheduled to discuss Pfizer’s request for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.
The state’s vaccination plans will be released next week, he said. In an October draft plan, the DOH said it would need to build capacity to immunize about 121,000 residents in “critical populations” with two doses of the vaccine. Under that scenario the state would need 242,000 doses for 11% of the population age 18 and older.
Health Director Libby Char told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii that the state expects to get some vaccines for the first group of high-risk residents — initially given to hospitals for front-line health care workers — by month’s end.
“That’s going to make a huge difference in the course of this pandemic. That way, they can continue to care for people through the pandemic who are ill and need care,” she said. “We’re hoping by mid-2021 to get our entire community vaccinated. It’s No. 1 on our priority right now.”
Hawaii health officials reported 10 additional coronavirus deaths and 106 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 256 fatalities and 18,290 cases.
Seven Hawaii island deaths were long-term care residents who died in October, and were previously reported by the county, while three of the new deaths were on Oahu. The fatalities occurred more than two weeks ago, and were reported Friday as a result of updated information, health officials said.
The Health Department has yet to verify another eight Big Island deaths as COVID-related. The latest Hawaii island victims were four men and three women, all with underlying conditions and ranging in age from their 60s to over 80, the DOH said. The three Oahu deaths were all men with underlying conditions, one in his 30s, one in his 50s and the third more than 80.
The state hopes to get as much as 60% to 70% of the population vaccinated in order to reach so-called herd immunity. The DOH expects most residents will be able to get a second shot of the vaccine in the latter half of next year.
“We’re all so anxious to get back to doing the things that are so important to us as a culture,” Char said. “For now we keep our distance, wear our masks. We can’t give up yet. Vaccines are right around the corner. We just need to hang on a little bit more.”