Hawaii health officials decided over the weekend to prioritize hotel, restaurant and bar workers for COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to those with specific high-risk medical conditions and residents 65 and older.
“We want those people first in line, absolutely. That’s because they’re at high risk and because we’ve seen infections in restaurants, in hotels and in bars. Their specific occupation mandates interaction with people and so we want to protect them,” Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr said today. “There are roughly 500,000 people in phase 1c and we don’t have a shot for everyone today, so we’re continuing to sub-prioritize them just as we did in the earlier phases.”
The decision came after the state announced Thursday that it would open up vaccination appointments for essential workers in phase 1c, which includes “people in industries and occupations important to the functioning of society and at increased risk of exposure” such as those working in banking and finance, transportation, energy, construction, media, legal, information technology and public safety.
Some workers in industries outside the latest DOH guidelines had already gotten appointments, which will be honored, said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.
“The reason we restricted it just to those groups is we wanted to manage the population and not just overwhelm all the vaccination centers. Because if people can’t get through, it’s just very frustrating. We’re trying to manage the flow,” he said. “It would’ve been preferable if this was all done at the same time, but it just took a little while to come to these decisions.”
Besides the priority workers frequently interacting with others in high-risk situations, many live in crowded households, which also puts their families at risk, he said.
“Pacific Islanders work in hotels and restaurants. Many of them do live in larger households,” Raethel added. “The DOH wanted to ensure that they got their vaccinations as soon as possible.”
Health officials are also working to schedule immunizations for blocks of essential workers, such as those in hotels, and are running mobile vaccination clinics in public housing and other high-risk settings “where we can actually … vaccinate entire households at the same time.”
An estimated 115,000 people fall into the 65 to 74 age group, while 80,000 individuals are in the 1c essential worker category. Another 340,000 are part of the high-risk medical group with serious respiratory conditions requiring oxygen, individuals on dialysis with end stage renal disease and those undergoing chemotherapy or other infusion therapy.
The state is currently administering 10,000 vaccines a day, or more than 60,000 shots a week, but has the capacity to deliver up to 120,000 doses a week, Raethel said.
Within two to three weeks, the state anticipates opening immunizations to those 60 to 64 years old.
“We’re not going to add any more disease conditions or any more categories. After we get through hotels, restaurants and bars and individuals with high risk conditions, it’s purely going to be five-year age bands,” Raethel said. “The reason is that just breaks it up … so you can roll through them faster. It just makes it so simple in terms of verification. We want to get to everyone as soon as we can.”
By Monday, Hawaii Pacific Health, which opened registration for all 1c essential workers on Thursday before the prioritization groups were determined, was completely booked with 2,000 appointments per day through Saturday.
Hotel worker Barry Niau was among the first in the 65-year age group to get vaccinated on Monday.
“I’m more relieved now that I got my first shot. This is the first step of being safe,” he said.
Health officials recorded 46 new coronavirus infections, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 28,305 cases. The statewide death toll remains at 451 with no new coronavirus deaths reported.