Hundreds of Hawaii National Guard personnel with the joint task force responding to COVID-19 are getting vaccinated, with some on neighbor islands receiving the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday from the back of a C-17 cargo aircraft during a brief stop.
“These are all people who were activated to support the state” coronavirus effort, said Hawaii Guard spokesman Jeff Hickman.
The C-17 out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam — also crewed by Hawaii Guard members — stopped on Hawaii island, Kauai and Maui on Tuesday with medical teams on board to vaccinate those among the 150 to 200 joint task force members on each of the neighbor islands.
“They stop the plane. They don’t even turn off the engines, and then they crank out the 150 to 200 (vaccinations) per island,” Hickman said. “They come on, get their vaccination and they do their waiting period back in one of the buildings at the airfield. And then the plane closes back up and goes to the next location.”
Approximately 800 Hawaii Guard members remain on active duty to help the state with COVID-19 efforts. Hawaii Army and Air National Guard medics flew on the C-17 to provide inoculations.
“They are only giving the vaccinations to Guardsmen, but I guess there are plans in the future for them to assist the (state) Department of Health with vaccinating civilians,” Hickman said. “So this is not really a practice run, but I guess this is the first chance they get giving the vaccine before they help civilians.”
Hickman said there’s “no word yet” on when that will happen. “Right now things are still being planned.”
The majority of the joint task force citizen soldiers — about 350 — are on Oahu. Some have received the vaccine, with more inoculations scheduled for today, Hickman said. Hawaii National Guard leadership also will get the vaccine.
Task force personnel have been providing temperature screening at airports around the state, supporting the mass testing efforts in each county and assisting health agencies in education efforts. Tuesday’s effort represented the first round of vaccinations for the neighbor islands task force personnel.
Tripler Army Medical Center, the military distribution point for the Pfizer vaccine in Hawaii, received an initial limited quantity of the vaccine Dec. 15.
The medical center has since received additional shipments, said spokeswoman Mackenzie Walsh. This week Tripler is starting to administer second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to front-line health care providers.
“There has been no shortage of volunteers to receive the vaccine as (it is) being distributed and administered across several branches” to include the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard and Hawaii National Guard, Walsh said.
Allocation decisions are made by accounting for unique supply chain considerations, including the need for ultracold bulk storage capabilities for the Pfizer vaccine.
The Defense Department said Tuesday that 19.1 million doses of vaccine have been delivered to the American people over the past 21 days.