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COVID vaccinations now open to all Big Island residents 16 and older

All Big Island residents 16 and older can now register to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

As it prepares to administer 5,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Saturday, Hilo Medical Center announced its expanded eligibility Thursday.

“So the coconut wireless among the parents have been fast and furious,” said HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu with a laugh. “It went through all the baseball teams, all the basketball teams, soccer teams, the running club.”

Assistant hospital administrator Kris Wilson said a lot of parents are excited to reach this milestone for their children.

Cabatu said parents of college students hoping to return to school on the mainland or to in-person classes also are thrilled about the expanded eligibility.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday announced that neighbor islands had the ability to expand vaccine eligibility as needed to ensure all vaccination slots are filled.

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for individuals 16 and older, while vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for adults 18 and older.

Wilson said hospitals operating larger PODs, or points of dispensing, are really “driving the vaccine into the community,” but can have trouble filling those slots.

Appointments at HMC’s daily vaccination clinic and local pharmacies, however, are filling up, she said.

“But to do a mass vaccination effort and to make it successful and worth the community’s time … we want to maximize the amount of vaccine that we deliver on that date,” Wilson said.

Cabatu said HMC expects to have 5,000 people registered for Saturday’s clinic.

According to Wilson, HMC also anticipates giving its 25,000th dose on Saturday.

There is a “trickle effect” among previously eligible groups as vaccine hesitancy wanes, but Wilson said as eligibility is rolled out to the next larger group, there will be another push for inoculations.

“We’ll see everybody who really wants it, try to get in early and then those that kind of wait and see for others to get vaccinated, once they see that nothing happened to their friends, nothing happened to their family, they’ll come in and get vaccinated, too,” she said. “We really feel our role, at least for these mass vaccination efforts, is to get through that really excited crowd who wants to get in early, and who wants to be first at the gate when we open up that next group.”

Other providers said they also will begin administering vaccine doses to those 16 or older in the coming days.

Kerri Okamura, director of pharmacy operations for KTA Super Stores, said vaccines will be available for adults 18 and older at an upcoming mass vaccination clinic, scheduled for April 9 at the Edith Kanakaole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

The grocery chain aims to administer about 2,000 first doses of the Moderna vaccine at that clinic.

“I guess it makes it easier as far as screening and I hope there’s enough vaccine so that everyone can get it,” Okamura said. “I hope it wasn’t too early to expand. … It was a pretty big range that we opened up to, so we’ll see how it goes.”

KTA began offering vaccines in its four Big Island pharmacies in February.

“We’re pretty booked in our stores, so we still have our waiting list,” Okamura said.

To schedule an appointment, visit ktasuperstores.com/pharmacy and click on the link for vaccination appointments at KTA’s Puainako location. Those who need assistance should call the pharmacy and press 6 and leave a message for a call back.

Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital also will expand its eligibility to those 16 and older starting Monday, said spokeswoman Lynn Scully.

The Waimea hospital still administers about 200 vaccines a day and is scheduled about two weeks out.

Kona Community Hospital also will open eligibility to people 16 and older.

“We are strongly committed to accommodating as many community members as possible who are seeking the COVID vaccine,” said spokeswoman Judy Donovan.

KCH has the capacity to administer more than 2,200 vaccines per week.

“As we look at our clinic calendar for later April and early May, our appointment numbers begin to trend down,” Donovan said. “Our goal is to keep all of our vaccine clinics full. Expanding to the broader population will help fill those clinics.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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