More COVID-19 vaccines are here and on the way, according to the state Department of Health, clearing the way for the state to continue administering them into the arms of those waiting.
On Monday, Hawaii received 49,410 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including 34,200 doses of Moderna vaccines and 15,210 doses of Pfizer vaccines. The department is also anticipating another 27,800 doses of Moderna and Pfizer to be delivered by the end of the week.
With the new shipments, which included some delayed by storms last week, Gov. David Ige said, Hawaii’s vaccination program should be able to continue as planned.
Ige himself got vaccinated on Monday, along with first lady Dawn Amano-Ige, Ige’s Cabinet and staff.
There may be some catching up to do as a backlog of people waiting for their second doses are cleared up, as well as those with rescheduled appointments, but the state is moving forward as quickly as possible.
Hawaii, along with the rest of the nation, is in a race to get as many vaccinated as soon as possible. The U.S. COVID-19 death toll Monday surpassed 500,000, which the White House noted was more in a single year of the pandemic than Americans who died in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.
In Hawaii the number of cases remained relatively low.
No additional deaths were reported Monday, keeping the statewide coronavirus-related death toll at 431. The state reported 52 new coronavirus infections Monday, including 21 on Oahu, 28 on Maui, two on Hawaii island and one on Kauai.
Hawaii plans to open vaccine eligibility requirements to residents age 70 and up, as previously announced, but that will likely be another three weeks out, according to state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char.
During a “COVID-19 talk-story” on Monday morning with state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole and state Rep. Linda Ichiyama, Char said that realistically, it would still take another three weeks to address backlogs.
Hawaii’s opening up of vaccinations to those 70 and up, instead of 75 and up currently, would still be considered part of Phase 1-B.
The state, she said, is not yet ready for Phase 1-C, which drops the age requirement to 65 and includes those with high-risk medical conditions and other essential workers, numbering nearly half a million people, potentially creating chaos.
“It really is a matter of how much vaccine are we receiving,” said Char. “We’re slowly starting to see an uptick in the amount of vaccine. Whereas we had been getting 35,000 doses a week, that’s slowly creeping up to 40,000, and we’re on target next week to be up to 50,000 doses a week.”
As of Monday the state had administered 306,432 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, based on preliminary data, up more than 19,000 from the previous day.
The Queen’s Health Systems, which runs the vaccination clinic at Blaisdell Center, welcomed the news of more vaccines arriving.
“Our caregivers are ready and willing to administer more doses than the current supply allows,” said Chief Operating Officer Jason Chang in a statement. “Currently, The Queen’s Health Systems expects to honor all vaccine appointments at its hospitals and clinics for this week. We are continuing to closely monitor our supply and are eagerly awaiting additional deliveries from the mainland so we can increase our scheduling. As more vaccine arrives, we will be able to schedule more appointments.”
Char also said she has confidence in the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose and which she hopes will be approved by mid-March.
“The bottom line is that it’s safe, and it works in the ways that we need it to work,” said Char. “I would be happy to get that vaccine. I would be happy to give it to any of my family members, especially if it means that I could get vaccinated sooner than having to wait longer for something else.”
As the number of average daily cases and positivity rates on Oahu decline, the City and County of Honolulu is expected to soon meet the metrics to transition from Tier 2 — where it has been since October — to the less restrictive Tier 3.
To move to Tier 3, the seven-day average of new cases must be below 50, and the positivity rate below 2.5%, on two consecutive Wednesdays.
On Monday, Oahu’s seven- day average case count was 26, and the positivity rate 1.1%, according to Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.
Tier 3 permits social gatherings of up to 10 people, up from five in Tier 2, and restaurants to seat 10 people at a table, also up from five now. Funeral homes would allow up to 25, up from 10 now.
Although the four-tiered framework established last year by former Mayor Kirk Caldwell did not take more contagious variants — since confirmed to be present in Hawaii — into account, the metrics-based system should still be applicable, according to Char.
“I don’t get the sense that it (the spread of variants) would change the tier level as long as we’re meeting the metrics,” said Char. “So the variants would speak for themselves. If we see a huge uptick in the number of cases, then that would affect the tier system.”
The presence of the variants, however, is a call for us to remain vigilant and not let our guard down, she said.
We already know how to prevent infection with variants, she said, and the guidance is the same: Wear your mask, watch your distance, avoid large gatherings and wash your hands.