Hawaii health officials are preparing to open up COVID-19 vaccinations to those 70 and older around March 15 and start immunizing the 65-plus age group a couple of weeks later.
“We only have 146,000 individuals statewide that are age 65-74, so we’ll aggressively move through those numbers,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii. “I know it can’t come soon enough for people, but now it’s pretty soon.”
The Department of Health said it is still working through the most vulnerable population, 75 and older. There are still 41,350 kupuna 75 and older who have not received a first dose and must get second shots as well, said DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr.
“We’re trying to take care of the people who are most vulnerable and most at risk of dying,” he said. “We want to give as many of these
people as we can the opportunity to get vaccinated. We want to protect those at the highest risk first.”
The state has administered 356,843 shots out of 417,590 doses received and is expecting 55,380 this week from Pfizer and Moderna, and 11,000 of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“We still have many thousands of teachers and other front-line essential workers that need to be vaccinated as soon as possible. We are looking forward to welcoming 70 and above as soon as we can,” said Health Director Libby Char.
Meanwhile, AARP Hawaii is advocating for the state to prioritize the 50-plus group, which accounts for 94% of COVID-19 deaths in the state.
“We’re still supporting getting the 65+ vaccinated sooner rather than later. But we want to start a discussion about prioritizing (the 50-plus group) as well,” the advocacy group said.
Green, also an emergency room doctor on Hawaii island, attributed a sharp decline in hospitalized coronavirus patients over the past two months to vaccinating the most vulnerable kupuna. Seniors 75 and older are eight times more likely to be hospitalized than adults in their early 20s and 186 times more likely to die, DOH data shows.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped to 31 from 110 on Jan. 8, after the holiday surge. Health officials reported 29 new coronavirus infections, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 27,588 cases. The statewide death toll remains at 439 with no new COVID-19-related deaths reported. There are only 630 active cases in the state, “which is also very low compared to where we were two months ago,” Green said.
“There’s no doubt we’re seeing a vaccination effect now. There’s just a lot of immunity that you do get even from the first shot, and it makes it that much harder to spread the virus. But also, people continue to wear masks at an over 90% rate. That is a real godsend for our state. If we weren’t as good with mask-wearing, we would not see these numbers get this low.”
As thousands of vaccines are delivered, people will be able to decide which vaccine they want when their turn comes up, he said.
“That’s always a person’s choice,” Green said, adding that the state won’t discriminate against people based on socioeconomic status. “No one should have to take one vaccine over another because of their economic state, so people will decide.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has proved to be 72% effective in the U.S. at preventing the disease and over 85% for serious illness.
“If you want just the one shot and you accept that amount of immunity, that would be good and it’s convenient,” he said. “There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but if you’re under 50 … Johnson & Johnson is a perfect shot for you. Let’s say you’re 71 and you’re about to get it, I still would probably err on the side of getting the Pfizer and Moderna because it does take you all the way to 94.5% or better immunity.”
Residents 70 or older will be able to sign up for vaccines in the upcoming weeks at hawaiicovid19.com.