Hawaii is expecting to receive 80,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this month for health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
It’s the first of two doses with a minimum 28 days in between that will be available to the first-priority group in the islands, according to the state Department of Health, which made its initial trial order for 4,875 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Friday as cases surged throughout the country.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to discuss Pfizer’s request for emergency use authorization Thursday.
“The state will order vaccine supplies as needed based on the plans that facilities have for implementing their vaccinations,” said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo, adding that each order is expected to arrive within 48 to 72 hours of being placed. The vaccine will be free to U.S. citizens and will save many lives, she said.
“This first supply of vaccine is reserved for the highest-risk groups. We’re taking care of the people who take care of us first, but later supplies will be available to everyone.”
Hawaii’s long-term care facilities and community care homes have reported 640 coronavirus cases, including 332 patients, 277 health care workers and 31 other associated infections. COVID-19 infections have resulted in at least 55 nursing home deaths since March.
The Health Department is urging residents to remain vigilant in following COVID- 19 safety rules — mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing — during the holidays as the state awaits large amounts of the vaccine to be able to immunize a bulk of the population.
“We do want to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible to protect our health care facilities and those resources,” Okubo said. “We still have not seen the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Hawaii hospitals are preparing for mass vaccination campaigns. The Queen’s Medical Center recently started practice drills on receiving a “mock shipment” of the Pfizer vaccine to prepare pharmacy and medical staff to accept and properly store the drugs.
The federal government is also partnering with CVS/Walgreens to vaccinate workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Details of the state’s vaccination plan are expected to be released this week. 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.
The state hopes to get as much as 60% to 70% of the population vaccinated to reach so-called herd immunity by mid-2021. The DOH expects most residents will be able to get a second shot of the vaccine in the latter half of next year.
Hawaii health officials reported 53 new infections statewide, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 18,661 cases. The state’s coronavirus death toll remains at 262 with no new fatalities reported.
“It’s certainly going to help to prevent the spread of disease, but we’re still going to need to continue wearing masks and distancing until we see the effects and until, of course, everyone gets access to the vaccine,” Okubo said. “It definitely gives us hope for getting back to our day-to-day activities.”