Dr. Melanie Kim, a hospitalist at Straub Medical Center, has witnessed firsthand the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on her patients, some of whom at the end of their lives have had to die alone.
The 53-year-old Kim has taken care of the most severe coronavirus cases for months and has had to endure watching patients suffer in isolation at one of the most critical times in their lives.
“At times when friends and families are needed the most, even if they’re at the end of their lives, often times they’re alone,” she said. “It’s devastating because they can’t kiss them and say goodbye to them. It’s very heartbreaking.”
The “profound” experience is the reason Kim chose to get immunized against COVID-19 on Wednesday, making her one of the first in Hawaii to get the vaccine.
Also Wednesday, Hawaii received 3,900 additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and Gov. David Ige reduced the state’s mandatory travel quarantine to 10 days from 14.
“I’m really, really happy that we finally have a vaccine available. I think it will move us in the direction where we can work on recovery and healing and getting back to our lives,” Kim said. “I feel very hopeful.”
The state Department of Health has put in an order for an 7,800 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which are expected to arrive next week, and hopes to receive 45,825 shots before year’s end.
A committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet today to discuss recommending emergency use of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. The state has already placed an order for 12,000 Moderna shots and is expecting as many as 36,000 doses this year.
Dr. Rich Kline, a hospitalist at Pali Momi Medical Center, also volunteered to get vaccinated Wednesday after seeing about 95% of the COVID-19 cases at the hospital since the pandemic began and personally having to call patients’ family members every day because they were prohibited from seeing infectious patients face-to-face.
“My name is on the first (coronavirus) death certificate in the state of Hawaii. I’m very emotional,” Kline said after getting the shot. “I’m excited, I’m overwhelmed with joy and I’m honored to be chosen by Pali Momi to be the first one vaccinated and honestly, I’m a little scared. But I trust science. I think a little fear is warranted. We don’t have the best record in medicine development throughout the course of history. With that said, this is our best chance of getting back to normal.”
Dr. Deane Chun, a 51-year-old anesthesiologist at Kapiolani Medical Center, is at high risk for COVID-19 in his job and has seen colleagues on the mainland get sick from the virus.
“I’ve worked in places on the mainland where single hospitals have almost as many ICU beds as in this entire state. Seeing those kinds of systems pressed to the limit is eye-opening,” he said after getting immunized. “Even though I still consider myself young and healthy, you still saw young, healthy people have absolutely horrendous complications, as well as outcomes. It’s kind of the idea of rolling the dice when you went to work.”
Hawaii health officials reported four new coronavirus deaths on Oahu and 110 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 278 deaths and 19,590 cases. Of the state’s total infection count, 1,470 cases are considered to be active. The U.S. coronavirus death toll has surpassed 306,000 with infections since the start of the pandemic approaching 17 million.
The new 10-day quarantine for travelers was to take effect at 12:01 a.m. today. Travelers without a valid negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival will now be required to quarantine for 10 days. The change from 14 days has been coming since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the reduced quarantine period earlier this month.
Vaccines have now been distributed to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, Straub Medical Center, Pali Momi Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, Queen’s Medical Center West Oahu, Tripler Army Medical Center and the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.
“Hawaii is my home,” Kline of Pali Momi said. “My parents are not the healthiest and I want to be able to have my 2-year-old daughter hug her grandma and me feel safe about it. I don’t know if I’m going home every day and exposing my daughter who will be asymptomatic and kill my mom. The (vaccine) side effects of a sore arm and feeling lousy for a day is a lot better than us having to tell you to say goodbye to your family.”