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Hawaii lawmakers heap blame as COVID-19 vaccine rollout lags

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                                A woman and girl wore masks Tuesday while enjoying Kapiolani Park.


    A woman and girl wore masks Tuesday while enjoying Kapiolani Park.

                                <strong>“We knew this day was coming. I don’t understand why this wasn’t done (months ago).”</strong>
                                <strong>Scott Saiki</strong>
                                <em>State House speaker</em>


    “We knew this day was coming. I don’t understand why this wasn’t done (months ago).”

    Scott Saiki

    State House speaker

State officials are pointing fingers at one another over concerns of a lagging rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Hawaii and a lack of coordination in ramping up large-scale immunization clinics to keep the disease under control.

As of Monday at least 39,000 residents were reported to have been vaccinated, though a total of 109,250 doses had been delivered in the islands.

“At this point there’s no excuse; we’re dealing with lives here. Those could be lives we’re saving,” said Rep. John Mizuno, a member of the House Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness Committee. “From a pure strategy point of view, wouldn’t you have plans in place even before … the rollout so as you anticipate getting 20,000, 100,000 doses of vaccine, you would already have teams and sites ready to go? We’re seeing a little bit of a surge in COVID numbers, and there’s an extreme urgency to get the vaccines into the arms of our people.”

There’s a significant delay in reporting the number of shots administered by health care providers, so the actual number of people vaccinated is substantially higher, according to the Health Department.

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 earlier told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

But House Speaker Scott Saiki, who blasted Green in a memo to his legislative colleagues for prematurely announcing the vaccination plan before contracts were signed, said a plan for mass vaccinations “should have been set up months ago.”

“We knew this day was coming. I don’t understand why this wasn’t done,” Saiki said of the vaccination centers only now being established. Saiki said he is leading efforts to set up the large immunization clinics with the hospitals, which weren’t able to coordinate with the Department of Health fast enough.

“There’s massive coordination involved. I’m not sure why the DOH wasn’t able to initiate this on their own. I’m not even sure how many vaccines are in the refrigerator right now,” he said. “There are some important details that have to be solidified so that this process will be orderly, because we do not want a situation where tens of thousands of people decide to drive up to one of the sites and try to stand in line for a vaccine. You don’t want 75-, 80-year-old people having to stand in line for an indefinite time waiting for a vaccination.”

Health officials hope 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.

The Department of Health said it must wait at least 48 to 72 hours upon vaccine delivery to distribute the shots to make sure the necessary ancillary kits that include needles, swabs and liquids that are mixed with the doses are also on hand. What’s more, many of the vaccines are directly shipped to hospitals, pharmacies, the neighbor islands and the military, which coordinate their own distributions, said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

“Those are vaccine supplies we don’t manage. It’s not like it’s all here at DOH,” Okubo said, adding that the state is not notified until days before of how many vaccines will be delivered each week. “When you schedule people to get vaccinated, you have to have doses ready. We’re working with all of counties, health care providers, pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and doing all we can to make sure that the vaccine is administered safely in an organized, efficient and equitable manner.”

The Health Department is working on mobile alternatives to get homebound seniors vaccinated, and on different ways to register people who are unable to sign up online.

Health officials reported 114 new coronavirus infections, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 23,627 cases. No new deaths were recorded, leaving the statewide death toll at 309.

The federal government Tuesday asked states to immediately begin vaccinating lower-priority individuals 65 and older and younger adults with certain health conditions, potentially giving thousands more residents access to the vaccines.

”We’re working on this day and night, and it’s imperative that we get these sites up and running as soon as possible,” Green said. “It does require a process. We’re doing well compared to many other states. You can’t be perfect. It was not easy to get 40,000 people vaccinated over this past month. There is a lot of coordination going on, and it will continue to get better.”

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