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Neighbor island district health offices will now decide county coronavirus vaccine distribution decisions

Vaccine distribution decisions for neighbor islands will be now be largely controlled by district health offices on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, announced Hawaii Department of Health Director Libby Char.

“They’re better able to designate who should be eligible for the vaccine at this point,” she said today on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii.

“I think some of them are in a position now where they can open it up to more populations a bit faster than we can do on Honolulu, and we don’t want to hold them back.”

The district health offices will be coordinating with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, hospitals and other federally qualified healthcare partners to distribute the vaccine in their counties. They will also be responsible for notifying residents about who qualifies for vaccine and where people can get it.

Honolulu will still follow the phase system dictated by DOH.

Char anticipated the qualifications for the vaccines to still be determined by both individual’s health susceptibility to COVID-19, such as those who are elderly or have co-morbidities, and protecting those who interact with many people, such as essential workers.

The state is seeing an increase in the number of doses it will receive. Currently, Hawaii gets about 60,000 to 70,000 doses a week. DOH was notified that next week, it will receive about 80,000 doses and then about 90,000 the following week.

“We’re finally starting to see that uptick,” Char said.

As the age qualification for the vaccine moves down, the health department will need to re-estimate its number of those who still need to be vaccinated to account for those who were able to get a dose through their jobs as essential workers, which now includes restaurant and hotel employees.

Char was concerned about the slow uptick in cases as restrictions have been lifted.

“We obviously still need to be very, very cautious, we still need to wear our masks, we should not be gathering in large social groups,” she said.

“If everybody could just please hang in there for another two to three months, we will have a significant amount of our population vaccinated and we will be that much safer.”

Potential Easter gatherings, both social and religious, were a particular point of concern, as well as travel cases from returning residents.

“Tourists are primarily going to stay to themselves and in certain activities in certain areas,” Char said.

“Whereas when we come back from travel, we’re mingling with family and friends and whatnot. And so it’s a much greater opportunity to spread disease that way.”

When it comes to lifting travel restrictions for interisland travel, Char explained that from a health perspective, if infection stays minimal, restrictions could be lifted.

“If the numbers in most of the communities are fairly lower or at least reasonable and the disease rate is comparable in various counties, then it makes sense to be able to allow people to travel a little bit more freely back and forth,” she said.

“This is the public health standpoint and there are other points of view that that are factored in when making the ultimate decision.”

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