It undoubtedly is going to get better — or that’s what the community has been assured — but the early phase of the Hawaii COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been disappointingly disjointed.
Providers have been managing to get the first tier of patients served — the health-care workers and long-term care residents — well enough. The information pipeline started to clog up the moment that those outside these closed systems were up next in phase 1B: those 75 and older, and front-line workers.
There wasn’t a lot of clear information about how this was supposed to work, to the point that people started turning to the “coconut wireless,” word-of-mouth from their friends.
In this first week that phase 1B began, texts and emails circulated about independently run distributions at Castle and Kaiser medical centers. People who heard about those crowded in to get their shots, which is not the ideal outcome.
Fortunately, some of the fog was cleared on Wednesday, when two big private medical partners contracting with the state were assembled to explain their plans at a news conference held at Pier 2, one of two large sites they will use for this needed mass-vaccination phase of distribution.
One of the partners, Hawaii Pacific Health, will go first at Pier 2 starting Monday, with about 1,000 already signed up through messages dispatched via its electronic medical-record system, said Dr. Melinda Ashton, HPH executive vice president.
The idea was to get things going this way, rather than starting from square one with an appointments portal that would crash from the high-volume demand, she said.
This does make sense, but the follow-through needs to include clear directions for those wishing to sign up after that point. The HPH plan is to continue to generate signups through its internal system, as well as through forms to fill out for those who don’t have the online account.
The how-to, with links to that form, is online now (hawaiipacifichealth.org/hph-covid-19-updates/vaccine-update). The state Department of Health also has guidance for appointments via its site, hawaiicovid19.com. The state and its partners should do more to make this information visible in a prominent place, as well as more widely disseminated.
The second partner, The Queen’s Medical Center, will begin its large-scale distribution a week later, Jan. 25, at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall.
The plan for both of these sites is to scale up to 3,000-4,000 shots each day; although Ashton said the target is 5,000, she added that the pace will be guided at the start by the needs of the elderly patients to be inoculated.
The confusion that led up to this presentation was not an encouraging sign, but there’s reason to feel hopeful that things will soon settle out. For one, according to general reports nationwide, vaccine production seems to have accelerated enough that the number of doses provided to distribution centers is becoming more consistent.
Laura Lott, spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, said that hospital has seen weekly allotments tick up gradually in the past month. Scheduling the shots has been complicated by uncertainty that allotments would continue at the expected level, she said.
That is why there’s been hesitation to follow a new proposal floated by the incoming Joe Biden administration: Simply giving out all the available doses without reserving enough for the required second-shot booster. That is a rational concern at the current stage, but officials must revisit that idea once things ramp up, and as quickly as possible.
Speeding the vaccine to Hawaii’s people is the surest route to the state’s COVID-19 recovery, an end point that cannot come too soon.