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Rollout of COVID vaccine for general population eyed for May

State officials hope to administer more than 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine throughout Hawaii by the end of May.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said during a Tuesday news conference that Hawaii has received about 83,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by pharmaceutical company Moderna, and has begun to distribute it among the elderly and “front-line essential workers.”

Since December, Green said, about 4,000 health care workers have been immunized with vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna during the first vaccination phase. The first phase will continue through the end of the month and targets about 40,000 health care workers and 10,000 residents of long-term care facilities.

A second stage of vaccinations — targeting about 150,000 people in total — will continue from now through March. This phase is for adults older than the age of 75 and front-line essential workers.

“Our big picture on the vaccination plan is our kupuna and those who care for our kupuna,” Green said. “That’s the overarching principle of our vaccination program.”

The front-line workers currently eligible for the vaccine include first responders, emergency dispatchers, critical transportation and utility workers, teachers and child care workers, postal service employees, corrections officers and staff and “individuals essential for federal, state and local government operations.”

The ongoing vaccination stage is considered Phase 1B and will be followed in March by Phase 1C, targeting another 400,000 people, including adults older than the age of 65, other essential workers not included in the previous phase and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at increased risk for COVID-19.

Vaccination sites will be expanded throughout the state in two weeks in order to better accommodate patients older than 75, who Green said should not be made to wait in line in a crowded place for a vaccine. Green said eligible patients will be able to register for a vaccination appointment online, although no site for that purpose has yet been activated.

By the end of May, Green said, the state will begin Phase 2 of the vaccination rollout, which will include broad distribution among the general population, although he added that the date and range of that phase depends on the effectiveness of nationwide vaccine production and federal allocation of the doses.

“We do not feel this is a mandatory process; people do not have to get vaccinated,” Green said, but added that widespread adoption of the vaccine is necessary to protect the vulnerable members of the population.

State Department of Health Director Elizabeth Char said she is reasonably confident that enough people in Hawaii will choose to take the vaccine in order to achieve herd immunity, which is when the number of people immune to a disease is high enough that it cannot effectively spread through a population.

Char said experts have estimated that 75%-85% of a population taking the vaccine will reach herd immunity.

Green advised residents to remain patient, explaining that the state currently only has a limited supply of vaccines that must be distributed to the most vulnerable first.

“This is going to do just as much as a vaccination for the foreseeable future,” Green said, brandishing a cloth face mask.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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