Residents and employees in the remote Kalapaupa Settlement on Molokai received their initial dose of COVID-19 vaccinations this week, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.
Dr. Glenn Wasserman, DOH chief of the Communicable Disease and Public Health Nursing Division, and two public health nurses flew to Kalaupapa Airport on Monday to administer Moderna vaccines to the community with fewer than 100 residents.
“It is gratifying to be able to protect our Kalaupapa patients and community with these vaccinations,” said Dr. Wasserman in a news release. “Our patients are elderly with significant comorbidities that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. We’ll be back in four weeks to administer a second dose of the Moderna vaccine to those who have now received their initial inoculations.”
In December, health officials announced the first positive case of COVID-19 in an adult resident of Kalaupapa in Kalawao County on Molokai. Prior to that, it was reportedly the last county within the U.S. with no confirmed positive COVID-19 cases.
The individual immediately self-isolated after a local flight home, with no symptoms, and contact tracing was conducted. No further cases have since been reported in the community.
Kalaupapa was historically where those who suffered from Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, were forced to relocate under Hawaii law. The state abolished the law in 1969, and the settlement on Molokai’s north shore now serves as a refuge for the few remaining residents with the care and support of the state.
The state Health Department manages Kalawao County, and works closely with the National Park Service to support the community there.
“Residents are very appreciative to have been included in the vaccination program,” said Kenneth Seamon, Kalaupapa administrator, in a statement. “Protection from COVID-19 is critical to us since we do not have quick and easy access to medical services. We are grateful to Mokulele Airlines, which scheduled a special flight to deliver the vaccine, and everyone else who made this happen.”