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Efforts to vaccinate younger residents expand

With COVID-19 vaccinations on the Big Island open to everyone 16 and older, Hilo Medical Center is working with schools to increase awareness that some students are now eligible to be inoculated.

“Now that we’ve done a good job vaccinating kupuna, we are now transitioning clinics to younger individuals,” said Assistant Hospital Administrator Kris Wilson.

HMC has another mass-vaccination clinic scheduled for Saturday at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

Wilson said previous PODs, or points of dispensing, targeted the populations eligible for vaccines at that time.

Days before HMC’s April 3 clinic, however, the hospital expanded its eligibility to everyone 16 and older.

There was a “pretty good” turnout for the youngest eligible population, considering the limited time frame those individuals had to sign up, Wilson said.

At that clinic, 578 individuals ages 16-20 received shots.

Wilson said that when looking ahead to this Saturday’s POD, HMC began contacting some schools to educate students about the opportunity.

“We rounded up all the high school principals on the island to get on the call to see if we could drum up some support for education opportunities for kids 16 and older so that they could have the facts and begin conversations with their parents so that they could make a decision before (Saturday) on whether or not they wanted to be vaccinated,” said Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Chad Keone Farias. “In the process, we were met by a bunch of student leaders who wanted to take a more active role and to spread their story on why they chose to be vaccinated.”

The number of vaccinated students on Hawaii Island remains low, because for many months they were told to let the kupuna receive their inoculations first, he said.

“Now, we’re seeing kids wanting to speak out because vaccine is available,” Farias said. “ … Kids feel more confident they can start looking away for college, attending sports camp or finding a job and not worry about bringing COVID home to their loved ones.”

Farias didn’t know the specific number of students in his complex area who have received a shot of vaccine, but he’s optimistic that 60% of the complex area’s 900 or so qualifying students would be interested in getting inoculated.

Although Hilo High School Principal Jasmine Urasaki said she didn’t know which students at her school have received a vaccine and which have not, the availability of the inoculation “puts some people at ease that their children are protected and our students are protected and our staff.”

HMC is administering the Pfizer vaccine, which is the only one so far available for those who are 16 and 17. Vaccines from Moderna and Johnson &Johnson are available for adults 18 and older.

As of Monday, more than 3,800 people had signed up for vaccines at Saturday’s clinic. Of those, 414 are age 16-18. HMC is aiming to administer more than 5,000 doses Saturday.

The push to vaccinate younger people comes as the average age of those seeking care in the hospital for COVID-19 has dropped significantly.

Chad Shibuya, HMC’s infection prevention director, said the hospital had a few positive cases in its emergency department in January and February — three and two, respectively — but 11 cases in March.

“We noticed that the age of people coming in was a lot younger than we had previously seen when (we were) at max COVID in August,” he said.

According to Shibuya, last fall, the average age of COVID patients seeking treatment was about 61, compared to an average age of 23 in March.

For more information or to register for Saturday’s POD, visit hilomedicalcenter.org.

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

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