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Shortage forces Hawaii Department of Health to cut vaccines for seniors’ companions

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Palolo resident Ruth Silberstein left after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 18 at the first mass vaccination clinic at Pier 2.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Palolo resident Ruth Silberstein left after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 18 at the first mass vaccination clinic at Pier 2.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Syringes with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the clinic.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Syringes with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the clinic.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A woman wearing a mask read while walking on South King Street on Saturday in Moiliili.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A woman wearing a mask read while walking on South King Street on Saturday in Moiliili.

Hawaii Pacific Health officials said Sunday they will continue to honor COVID-19 vaccination appointments to companions of seniors (age 75 and older) made prior to the Department of Health’s decision to end the practice.

The Department of Health had issued a directive Tuesday that the practice of vaccinating escorts — anyone 18 and older — who accompany seniors to the vaccination site is being discontinued due to a shortage of the vaccine.

HPH has a mass vaccination site at Pier 2 for kupuna 75 years and older and is taking only appointments and no walk-ins.

“I do not have information on when specific appointments with HPH were made, but as you know, we asked HPH to focus on kupuna and stop scheduling ‘escorts,’” Brooks Baehr, spokesman for the Health Department, said Sunday. “Because the supply of vaccines is far less than demand, we want to vaccinate as many kupuna as we can.”

HPH Chief Quality Officer Dr. Melinda Ashton said she discussed the change in policy directly with DOH Director Libby Char.

“Dr. Char and I communicated by text whether we had to change the attendants’ appointments, and we agreed that we did not,” she said.

On Tuesday the Health Department said it “agrees that from a public health standpoint there is value in vaccinating a kupuna’s primary caregiver. However, given the limited supply of vaccine from Operation Warp Speed, the Department of Health is asking its partners in healthcare to vaccinate only the kupuna.”

Of the 10,434 HPH had vaccinated at Pier 2 as of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 4,331 were either escorts, health care personnel and long-term care facility residents or front-line essential workers. A total of 6,103 seniors 75 and older were vaccinated at Pier 2.

HPH did not break out how many escorts were among the 4,331 nonseniors who were vaccinated.

HPH began administering vaccines Jan. 18 on Oahu and started Jan. 15 on Kauai.

It offered a COVID-19 vaccination to any adult who escorted kupuna to be vaccinated.

Ashton said HPH made appointments for attendants through Wednesday, but they can no longer make an appointment after the change in guidance.

“The original policy was at the request of the Department of Health at a time when it looked like the amount of vaccine was increasing,” she said. “When it looked like the amount of vaccine was going to be constrained, the Department of Health changed the policy.”

She said more than half the attendants HPH has vaccinated are 65 and older, mostly family caregivers.

HPH’s website says, “We had an overwhelming response for escort requests and are working through them now. You will receive communication via email regarding the appointment confirmation. An appointment is required in order to receive the vaccination.”

Kupuna age 75 and older can go to the Health Department’s website to register for a vaccination.

Hawaii health officials Sunday reported six new coronavirus-related deaths: five on Oahu and one on Maui. There were 153 new infections: 103 on Oahu, 34 on Maui, eight on Hawaii island and eight residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii.

These numbers reflect new infection cases reported Friday to the Health Department.

The state has 1,700 active cases: Oahu has 1,246, Maui has 328, the Big Island has 116 and Kauai has 10.

Oahu’s seven-day average case count is 78, and its positivity rate is 3%. To move to the less restrictive Tier 3, it must maintain a seven-day average of new cases below 50 on two consecutive Wednesdays and a positivity rate below 2.5% on those two Wednesdays.

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