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Younger kupuna frustrated about inability to get vaccine, AARP survey finds

Frustration is growing among younger kupuna who are at high risk for COVID-19 but unable to get vaccinated.

A new AARP Hawaii survey showed significant concern among at-risk seniors who are still waiting for the state to open vaccinations to them.

The Department of Health has yet to allow those 65 and older to be immunized. More than 500 people responded to the survey issued online last week before the state opened up vaccinations to those 70 and older.

“I am 100% disabled in a very high-risk group and I keep trying to either get a vaccine or get scheduled on a registry to get a vaccine. State and health providers will not schedule people ahead of who they are currently vaccinating, and they keep dumping more people in front of me,” one survey respondent wrote. “They keep finding new essential workers and it seems like any employer can deem any of their workers as essential, even when they are not. But there is nobody standing up for totally disabled people who are living on disability and/or pensions because we don’t have bosses to vouch for us. I feel like I am being discriminated against for being disabled and under the age of 70.”

Roughly 94% of respondents 75 years or older said they had received at least one dose of the vaccine, though the AARP said it is not clear whether the state has been successful in reaching seniors without access to a computer, who are homebound or have limited English. About 60% of kupuna not yet eligible by age said they had also received at least one shot, indicating that “the process to get a shot works if you can use a computer and there are a lot of essential worker kupuna who are getting vaccinated.”

What’s more, 58% of respondents found it somewhat or very easy to get a shot, and some seniors who don’t meet the criteria were able to get immunized as essential workers or if their doctors, health care providers or vaccinators determined eligibility due to medical need “even though they were not officially in a priority group.”

“We continue to urge the state Department of Health to allow the 65+, and even those 60 and older and 50 and older, to get vaccinated sooner rather than later,” said Kealii Lopez, AARP Hawaii state director, adding that there needs to be more transparency in the vaccination process, including who qualifies as an essential worker or can get immunized because of high-risk medical conditions. “We think the state can do a better job of explaining how the vaccination process is working and where it works and where it may not be working well.”

Another survey respondent between the age of 50 and 64 said: “In Hawaii “essential” is just about anyone. (The vaccines) are most effectively used to protect the vulnerable, who the state has placed at the end of the line. I would have been already (vaccinated) in any other state in the U.S.”

The Hawaii COVID-19 vaccine summary showed 425,749 doses have been administered of the 550,250 received by the state. An estimated 10,000 residents and caregivers in about 1,700 small care homes on Oahu and Hawaii island have received at least one dose of the vaccine, the DOH said. As of mid- February, about 90% of small care homes — 1,537 on Oahu and 152 on the Big Island — had access to the shot.

Health officials reported three new coronavirus deaths — a man and woman in their 50s and a man in his 80s, all with underlying medical conditions — and 48 new infections, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 448 fatalities and 28,023 cases.

The new cases include 29 on Oahu, nine on Maui, five on Hawaii island, and five state residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii. As a result of updated information, state health officials removed two Oahu cases from the count.

The statistics released Wednesday reflect the new infection cases reported to the department on Monday.

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