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Nearly 500 Hawaii education employees receive Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before in-person classes resume

  • VIDEO COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

    Nearly 500 Hawaii Department of Education employees received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday, March 5 at the Windward Comprehensive Health Center in Kaneohe.

  • COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
                                Hawaii Department of Education employee Fulton Dela Cruz receives a single-shot of the coronavirus vaccine by Johnson & Johnson today at the Windward Comprehensive Health Center in Kaneohe.

    COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

    Hawaii Department of Education employee Fulton Dela Cruz receives a single-shot of the coronavirus vaccine by Johnson & Johnson today at the Windward Comprehensive Health Center in Kaneohe.

At least 494 Department of Education employees received Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, as public schools prepare to resume more in-person classes after spring break.

Angel Ramos, a vice principal at Kalakaua Middle School, was the first in Hawaii to receive the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said he did not hesitate to accept the shot after watching Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, reassure Americans that all three approved vaccines — made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are effective, according to an interview provided by the DOH, which did not allow the media on-site due to patient privacy rules.

The first Johnson & Johnson immunization clinic was run by the DOH Behavioral Health Administration at the Windward Comprehensive Health Center in Kaneohe.

“Everyone is not 100% protected, but the Johnson & Johnson makes me 100% protected against death, that’s the most important part,” Ramos said. “Just like the flu — the flu shot doesn’t protect everyone 100%. (But) I feel safe.”

The Department of Health notified certain public school employees on Wednesday about the option of getting the Johnson & Johnson shot or waiting to receive Moderna’s vaccine at another clinic next week.

English teacher Darlene Paton said she “felt very blessed to be able to get an appointment so quickly” after just finding out that the vaccine was available on Thursday.

“I like the fact that it is a single dose. Also because I’m going to be traveling to see my mother — she’s been vaccinated and now I’ve been vaccinated — I just feel that that’s going to be so much safer,” she said. “I would encourage everyone who can get a vaccine to do so. We need to get our kids in school, we need to get everybody back to work and get our economy going again and if this is one way to help that happen I think everybody should do it.”

Substitute teacher Stephanie Pierobello, who retired after more than 20 years, waited for the single-dose vaccine so she wouldn’t have to worry about a two-dose process.

“My heart goes out to the regular classroom teacher without a vaccine who’s had to combat this,” she said, encouraging her colleagues not to be “held back by any type of beliefs other than your own health.”

“It must be such a joy right now to have these options.”

Health officials Friday reported two new coronavirus deaths — both Oahu women in their 60s with underlying medical conditions — and 54 infections, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 443 fatalities and 27,753 cases.

The DOH said 391,116 vaccines had been administered of the 496,050 received by the state with about 16.1% of the general population in Hawaii receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.

“It is gratifying to see that so many people recognize the benefits this new vaccine offers,” Health Director Libby Char said in a news release. “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in that they are all highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death, but different because Johnson & Johnson is a single-shot regimen.”

Hawaii was set to receive 67,280 doses this week, up from about 40,200 shots a month ago. Federal approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is helping to accelerate the vaccination timetable for the state, which is opening immunizations to everyone 70 and above as early as today. Up until now, the state reserved doses for health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, as well as front-line essential workers, including school teachers, and kupuna 75 and older.

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 distributed at so-called “points of dispensing,” or PODs, by the state’s District Health Offices, as well as hospitals. The state is expecting 62,330 vaccines to arrive next week.

The DOH inoculated public school workers from Waikiki to Waianae on Friday and is scheduled to announce dates for additional groups shortly. Go to hawaii covid19.com to sign up.

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