The state health director did an about-face Thursday afternoon when she opened COVID-19 vaccinations beginning Monday to those 60 and older in the state.
Health Director Elizabeth Char briefed state legislators earlier in the day, saying Hawaii had consistently ranked in the top five to eight states in the country by not opening vaccinations to too large of a segment of the population.
Lowering the age requirement from 65 could possibly add an estimated 91,000 residents 60 to 64 years old to those already vying for vaccines in Hawaii. That figure is about half the 182,095 residents the Department of Health says are 55 to 64 years of age.
Thursday afternoon, Char said in a written statement: “We are closely monitoring current and projected vaccination numbers, appointment availability and most importantly the amount of vaccine allocated to the people of Hawaii.
“Our analysis of these indicators tells us it is time to expand vaccine eligibility to more people.”
The vaccines had been reserved for those age 65 and older, and for those in phases 1a and 1b of the DOH vaccination program, along with those being treated with oxygen for severe respiratory conditions, and those on dialysis, chemotherapy or other infusion therapy.
It also had opened vaccinations March 15 to essential workers in the top tier of the phase 1c category, namely those employed at hotels, restaurants and bars.
While other essential workers in phase 1c are still unable to be vaccinated, the decision to open to those age 60 and older adds a flood of additional competitors for the vaccine.
DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said the change was not about reaching President Joe Biden’s May 1 goal of opening vaccination nationwide to everyone 16 and older.
Char told legislators Thursday morning she was cautiously optimistic but was “not saying 100% yes,” that if the state continues to receive a steady supply of vaccine, Hawaii will be able to open vaccinations to all by about May 1.
She said by getting 70,000 doses of vaccine a week, the state is on track to get through most of the population by the end of April or beginning of May.
“We don’t need to vaccinate every last person in a category before we start opening up to more people,” she said.
Baehr said that there is constant monitoring of data as to the vaccine supply and the pace at which appointments are being snatched up.
Char urged people to continue wearing masks and avoid large gatherings, even if fully vaccinated, since more highly transmissible variants are resistant to treatments available.
Although the variants tamp down the level of neutralizing antibodies in the system of a vaccinated person, “the immune response is still far more than adequate for you to be protected,” she said.
Seven South African variant cases were identified in the state, and three of the U.K. variant were added, she said.
As of Monday, DOH had received 12 reports of COVID-19 cases in fully vaccinated people. Two had the U.K. variant.
Nine received the Pfizer vaccine; one had the Moderna. Two were vaccinated in other states.
Of the 10 who received the vaccine in Hawaii, six reported mild symptoms and four were asymptomatic.
Those 60 and older will be able to register soon at hawaiicovid19.com and through links from health care providers.