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Hawaii races to continue vaccinations as variant cases rise

The race to get Hawaii residents vaccinated for COVID-19 continues as the number of variants of concern circulating in the isles grew to 555 detected cases statewide.

With federal clearance to resume use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Friday after an 11-day pause, the state Department of Health said it anticipates it will do so soon, though no specific date has yet been set.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine continues to be another valuable tool in the fight against COVID-19,” said DOH in a statement. “Those who do not want to wait for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine are encouraged to schedule a vaccine appointment for one of the other vaccine products as soon as possible.”

Federal health officials ultimately decided that J&J’s one-and-done vaccine is critical in the fight against the pandemic, the Associated Press reported, and that the small clot risk could be handled with warnings to help younger women decide whether to use that shot or an alternative.

The DOH said the screening form for people who elect to receive the J&J vaccine and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization are being updated. Once updated, the department will resume J&J vaccinations.

At last count, the state Health Department reported having received about 47,600 doses of the J&J vaccine and having administered about 17,800 doses in Hawaii, with the remainder in storage.

On Friday, DOH reported one new coronavirus-related death and 94 additional infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 477 fatalities and 31,751 cases.

The death was of a Maui man in his 40s who had been hospitalized, with underlying conditions.

Of the new infection cases, 74 were on Oahu, 11 on Maui, four on Hawaii island, one on Molokai, and four were Hawaii residents diagnosed out of state.

Statewide, the seven-day average of daily new cases Friday was at 80, with a positivity rate of 1.5%.

A total of 1,118,905 COVID-19 vaccine doses have now been administered in the state, according to preliminary numbers reported to the Health Department on Friday, approximately 13,000 more than Thursday.

Hawaii was among eight states that got a Twitter shout-out from White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt for having vaccinated more than 60% of adults with a first shot.

Vaccine appointments available

On Monday the state opened vaccine eligibility to all residents ages 16 and up, and appointments have been booked but are also available.

In an effort to help students get vaccinated, ‘Iolani School teamed up with Safety to host a pop-up Pfizer vaccination clinic on campus Friday and today, and invited the surrounding community and schools to participate by appointment. About 250 slots were available for today.

Hawaii Pacific Health said all appointments were filled this week. As of Friday, however, HPH had 12,600 appointments open next week for its Pier 2 Vaccination Center. Appointments can be booked at hawaiipacifichealth.org/COVID19Vaccine.

Kaiser Permanente has been vaccinating teens accompanied by parents at the Kapolei Consolidated Theatre site this week.

Kaiser said it still has hundreds of Moderna vaccination appointments (for those 18 and up) available at Kapolei today, and Pfizer vaccination appointments (for those 16 and up) next week. Appointments can be booked in advance at kp.org/covidvaccine.

Growth in variants

As vaccinations get underway, however, Hawaii is also experiencing a growth in variants of concern.

Over the past two weeks, the Health Department announced that another 209 variant cases had been detected, bringing the total statewide now to 555.

Five different variants have been detected in the state, with the largest share made up of so-called California variants, including B1.429 and B.1.427.

Both have the L452R mutation linked to outbreaks in Santa Clara as well as Los Angeles counties, and are known as California variants, which are more transmissible.

The California variants are now the predominant strain on Maui, according to acting state Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble, with B1.429 now making up 82% of all strain sequences on the Valley Isle.

This is the strain health officials have been seeing in many clusters under investigation on Maui, she said.

Among clusters currently under investigation, according to Thursday’s report, are five tied to educational settings, with 41 cases; 11 tied to travel, lodging and tourism, with 154 cases; and one to a food supplier, with 18 cases.

“We’re also seeing the vaccine does appear to be effective, even for those exposed to this strain,” said Kemble.

Statewide, there are 454 cases of the California variants, mostly B.1429, followed by 86 of the B.1.1.7 or U.K. variant, eight of the B.1.351 or South African variant and seven of the P.1 or Brazilian variant.

Oahu has most of these variants-of-concern cases, with 251, followed by Maui with 215, then Hawaii County with 33 and Kauai County with six.

Another 50 variant cases, including 32 of the U.K. variant, are listed with unknown counties of origin.

The Health Department’s Laboratories Division began genome sequencing in June, and examines about 75 specimens statewide a week.

Variants of Concern in Hawaii

Oahu (Honolulu County)

>> B.1.429, or California variant, 184

>> B.1.427, also California, 21

>> B.1.1.7, or U.K., 35

>> B.1.351, or South African, 7

>> P.1, or Brazilian, 4

Total Oahu cases involving variants of concern: 251

Maui County

>> B.1.429, or California, 207

>> B.1.427, also California, 0

>> B.1.1.7, or U.K., 6

>> B.1.351, or South African, 0

>> P.1, or Brazilian, 2

Total Maui cases involving variants of concern: 215

Hawaii County

>> B.1.429, or California, 19

>> B.1.427, also California, 2

>> B.1.1.7, or U.K., 12

>> B.1.351, or South African, 0

>> P.1, or Brazilian, 0

Total Hawaii cases involving variants of concern: 33

Kauai County

>> B.1.429, or California, 5

>> B.1.427, also California, 0

>> B.1.1.7, or U.K., 1

>> B.1.351 or South African, 0

>> P.1, or Brazilian, 0

Total Kauai cases involving variants of concern: 6

Unknown origin

>> B.1.429, or California, 14

>> B.1.427, also California, 2

>> B.1.1.7, or U.K., 32

>> B.1.351, or South African, 1

>> P.1, or Brazilian, 1

Total unknown origin cases: 50

Source: State Department of Health

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