The state has decided to open eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations early to residents 70 and older on Monday because of a substantial increase in the number of shots arriving in the islands.
It originally intended to expand the pool around mid-March. On Monday, the Department of Health said there were still 41,350 kupuna 75 and older who had not received a first dose.
“We are excited to be ahead of schedule and pleased that we can now provide another layer of protection to this vulnerable population,” Health Director Elizabeth Char said in a news release.
Up until now, the state reserved doses for health-care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, as well as frontline essential workers, including school teachers, and kupuna 75 and older.
“We have vaccinated enough people in those groups that we are able to open eligibility to everyone 70 and above. We will closely monitor how quickly vaccines are used and may open to people age 65 and up and those in phase 1c in a couple of weeks,” Char added.
Hawaii received more than 67,000 doses this week, up from about 40,000 shots a month ago. In addition, federal approval of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also helping to accelerate the state’s vaccination timetable.
The Health Department has received 5,900 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Oahu, and another 2,000 shots each for Hawaii island, Maui and Kauai. The shots will be used to immunize teachers and staff from the Department of Education this Friday. Dates for additional groups will be announced shortly, the DOH said.
“We must still wait our turn as our elders and frontline essential workers continue to be vaccinated, but we are thrilled others in our community will soon have access to these life-saving vaccines,” Char said.
Health officials reported two new coronavirus deaths and 20 new infections — the lowest since July — bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 441 fatalities and 27,640 cases.
The two deaths were on Oahu — a man in his 60s and a woman in her 70s, both of whom had underlying medical conditions.
The U.S. coronavirus death toll has surpassed 517,000 and the nationwide infection tally is more than 28.8 million.
“Hawaii residents have been doing their part to keep COVID-19 cases down, and this is an example of their sacrifices and efforts,” Gov. David Ige tweeted Wednesday.
Residents 70 or older will be able to sign up for vaccines at hawaiicovid19.com.