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Some Hawaii vaccine recipients finding ways to jump line

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The VA Pacific Islands Health Care System’s director, Dr. Adam Robinson, and Lt. Gov. Josh Green have joined the VA Homeless Program team in vaccinating more than 100 veterans. VA nurse Val Veracruz, right, vaccinated Army and Marine veteran Tom Tague on Monday at Cloudbreak Communities in Kapolei.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

The VA Pacific Islands Health Care System’s director, Dr. Adam Robinson, and Lt. Gov. Josh Green have joined the VA Homeless Program team in vaccinating more than 100 veterans. VA nurse Val Veracruz, right, vaccinated Army and Marine veteran Tom Tague on Monday at Cloudbreak Communities in Kapolei.

Renee Tulonghari, an educational assistant, was among the Department of Education staff able to get a COVID-19 vaccination through word of mouth as co-workers and friends shared links and phone numbers to register.

Tulonghari and other staff members, who are part of the essential workforce currently eligible for the vaccine, used their ingenuity to find ways to sign up even before the DOE established its own vaccination hub.

But others whose turn have not yet come up are also finding ways to get a shot.

“I know people who are signing up, and they’re finding loopholes. To me I would have a hard time because that’s like, ethically, how could you do that?” she said. “It’s pretty sad when you hear this kind of stuff. It’s not hidden. We all know that people are jumping the line.”

Tulonghari registered over the phone for the vaccination hub at Pier 2 run by Hawaii Pacific Health, but she said she did not have to verify her job when she got there.

”It’s pretty much on the honor system,” she said.

The state Department of Health said it relies on employers to identify who in their companies are front-line essential workers eligible for the shot, and also on vaccinators to verify the people getting inoculated.

”DOH does not verify every individual who goes to get a vaccination. We do review the lists we receive from employers and ask questions if there’s anything that looks incorrect,” said spokeswoman Janice Okubo. “We provide guidelines to employers, and they determine which of their staff is front-line essential. We don’t have a centralized system.”

The state opened eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations this week to residents 70 and older because of a substantial increase in the number of shots arriving in the islands. 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 schoolteachers, and kupuna 75 and older.

Hawaii Pacific Health, parent company of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Pali Momi Medical Center, Straub Medical Center and Wilcox Health on Kauai, said it receives lists of individuals deemed as essential workers from the Health Department and reaches out to them via phone or email with information on how to schedule an appointment.

“For those who we are provided email addresses, an email is sent to them with instructions on how to schedule an appointment, and a unique password is included that is required for them to confirm an appointment,” said HPH spokeswoman Kristen Bonilla. “This process helps to ensure that only those who are eligible according to the state’s vaccination guidelines are scheduling appointments through our system.”

The health provider also requires additional documentation, including a photo ID and proof of appointment confirmation, at the vaccination site. A spokesman for The Queen’s Medical Center, which operates a vaccination hub at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, said that while some people slip through the cracks, for the most part those who are getting vaccinated are verified and meet the state’s eligibility criteria.

Hawaii has vaccinated 416,034 people against COVID-19, Lt. Gov. Josh Green wrote in an online post Tuesday. Health officials Tuesday reported 42 new coronavirus infections, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 27,977 cases. The statewide death toll remains at 445 with no new coronavirus deaths reported. The new cases include 16 on Oahu, 18 on Maui, seven on Hawaii island and one state resident diagnosed outside of Hawaii. The statistics reflect the new infection cases reported to the department Sunday.

The DOH is urging the public to follow eligibility requirements for COVID-19 vaccinations and get immunized when their turn comes up.

“The Department of Health is working to avoid the situation other states experienced where there were long lines necessitating several hours of waiting and people staying overnight to receive shots,” said Health Director Libby Char. “In order to do that, it means people have to make appointments. If there are more people needing shots than vaccine doses available … this would make it more difficult for those who provide core functions and are doing essential work, or who are at highest risk, to get vaccinated.

“As more vaccine arrives in Hawaii, we can welcome larger groups of our community to get vaccinated at the same time. We will see this happening over the next few weeks as vaccine allocation to Hawaii increases. Right now we are still short on what we can use every week, but the situation is improving week by week.”

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