Starting Monday, thousands of Hawaii residents will have access to COVID-19 vaccines as the state opens mass vaccination centers on Oahu.
The state is partnering with Hawaii Pacific Health — parent company of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Straub Medical Center, Pali Momi Medical Center and Wilcox Health on Kauai — to ramp up immunizations at Pier 2 on Monday, and with The Queen’s Medical Center to operate a large-scale vaccination clinic a week later at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii.
Health officials are hoping to administer as many as 100,000 shots this month and up to 150,000 doses monthly in February, March, April and May, Green said. That’s up from 26,000 vaccines in December. As of Monday nearly 39,000 residents had been vaccinated, and 109,250 doses were delivered by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna. Tens of thousands more vaccines are expected to be shipped later this week, according to the state Health Department, which reported 172 new coronavirus infections Monday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 23,513 cases.
No new deaths were recorded, leaving statewide COVID-19 fatalities at 309. On Thursday the state hit a record high for the new year, with 322 new cases — the highest since mid- August, when infections spiked to 355. The surge is attributed primarily to holiday gatherings.
“This is still the remnant of the surge from New Year’s; almost all have been from those social gatherings,” Green said, adding that 2,268 are considered active cases. “I do believe it’s beginning to come down. I don’t think we’re going back to Tier 1 as long as we keep a lid on social gatherings.”
Health care workers and nursing home kupuna and staff are beginning to get second doses of the vaccine, with at least 50,000 expected to be fully vaccinated this month. Meanwhile, states are expecting the federal government to approve two new vaccines by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. If approved, that could double the number of vaccinations Hawaii receives to 300,000 beginning in March, Green said.
“It will accelerate how fast we get to just regular people who don’t have any high risk or who aren’t obviously kupuna,” he said.
Residents will be able to sign up for vaccines at hawaiicovid19.com. The state expects to release details on the registration process Friday.
Queen’s President Jason Chang said online registration should make the process fast and efficient for those who voluntarily get vaccinated. They will be monitored for 15 to 30 minutes after the inoculation for any allergic or adverse reactions, he said. Queen’s is initially seeking to administer 2,500 to 3,000 doses a day.
“We’re setting up the space so that everyone’s socially distanced but we have good visibility making sure that if we see anybody with distress, we can attend to them quick,” Chang said, adding that 40 to 50 staff will be on hand to help at the clinic. “Ideally, you’d like to get through more people, but we want to be safe and cautious to start.”
Hawaii Pacific Health said it is opening its clinic Monday for patients and other community members, though the details have yet to be worked out with the Department of Health.
The state already has established smaller-scale vaccination hubs using online registration systems that have resulted in minimal lines, Green said.
“It will probably be a little bit more busy when we have thousands of people coming to sites. That’s why we’re picking larger sites where people can either drive through or park and do it,” he said. Officials are still trying to figure out how to manage appointments to avoid long lines and possibly establish time blocks for walk-ins, he said. Kupuna unfamiliar with online registration can have family members help sign them up, Green added.
“Over time it will get simpler and simpler as we roll out more vaccines, and then it will be in the pharmacies. There won’t be long lines, hopefully, because it will be spread out very widely,” he said. For the neighbor islands, hospitals and community health centers will be responsible for vaccinating residents.
By July 4, “everyone who wanted a vaccine would have gotten one,” which should allow Hawaii residents to start returning to their normal lives, said Green, adding that teachers also will be able to be vaccinated in the next six to eight weeks to allow schools to reopen safely.
“The vaccine has to be viewed as the key to opening up the world again,” he said. “Each month, incrementally, we’re going to be that much safer from the vaccine. That’s a big blessing because we know people need to get back to their normal lives.”
WHO GETS COVID-19 VACCINATIONS FIRST IN HAWAII
The vaccinations, which began last month, are being given in an order based on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
>> Phase 1-A: Began in mid-December and is expected to be completed this month, focuses on health care workers and long-term care facility residents. About 50,000 people.
>> Phase 1-B: Began in December and is expected to be completed in May, focuses on those over age 75 not included in phase 1-A and front-line essential workers. The list of front-line essential workers includes first responders, corrections officers and staff, emergency service workers and individuals essential for federal, state and local government operations. It also includes public transportation workers, utilities workers, teachers, child care workers and education support staff, along with U.S. Postal Service workers. About 159,000 people.
>> Phase 1-C: Will begin in March and run through May, focuses on those ages 65 to 74, as well as those with chronic diseases and essential workers not previously included in Phase 1-A or 1-B. About 50,000 people.
>> Phase 2: Will begin in early summer and cover the rest of the population, which includes all persons 16 years and older who are not in the other categories.
Based on the estimated number of people in each of these priority groups, 73% of Hawaii’s population will receive the vaccination if all those in Phase 1 receive the vaccine. Phase 2 will cover the remaining 27% of Hawaii’s population.
Source: State Department of Health