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Some Big Island teachers get first dose of COVID vaccine

Some state Department of Education teachers and staff on the Big Island have received vaccinations for COVID-19.

Approximately 630 DOE staff were given the first dose of the Moderna vaccine Jan. 16 at a closed “POD,” or point of distribution, conducted for Big Island DOE staff at Keaau High School, according to District Health Officer Eric Honda.

A second such POD is planned for Feb. 6 at Kealakehe High School, which will aim to provide another 600-800 vaccinations, depending on supply and the number of people signed up, Honda said.

“Currently, there are approximately 2,000-plus DOE staff on-island who want to be vaccinated, and conducting these large closed DOE PODs will alleviate the demand on the hospitals who can then focus on kupuna (older than) 75,” he said.

Teachers and child care and educational support staff are among the essential workers included in Phase 1B of the state’s two-phase vaccine plan. Much recent focus, however, has been on registering kupuna 75 and older for the vaccine, who also are included in Phase 1B.

Chad Keone Farias, Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area superintendent, who is helping coordinate the vaccination efforts on the Big Island, said the DOE continues to plan for vaccination opportunities “as if this could happen tomorrow.”

According to Farias, the state Department of Health “asked us if we could stand ready, should some doses become available.”

The answer was yes.

“We were ready to do our event for the community or strictly for the DOE,” he said. “When the DOH said they were willing to hold this event, we went ahead with basically 20 hours notice.”

Because the island’s complex area superintendents and principals worked ahead of time preparing for the possibility, Farias said they were already semi-prepared.

“Should the DOH get extra doses, or should the DOH doses for our island increase, we’re ready,” he said.

According to Farias, the DOE previously conducted a survey to see which employees might be interested in receiving a vaccination. Principals prioritized “forward-facing employees,” such as those working with students.

For the Jan. 16 POD, he said there was a list of people who wanted to receive the inoculation, but principals also had to see who they could sign up on short notice.

“We had 20 hours,” he said. “By the time we were actually informing employees, it was dinnertime on Friday (Jan. 15).”

Farias said the vaccination process includes charter school employees, but when the initial vaccination POD was offered, a list of interested charter school employees who want to be vaccinated wasn’t yet available.

“We went from the list that we had,” he said.

Principals prioritized all employees, including teachers, educational assistants, school health aides and security officers.

As for the second POD in February, Farias said educators are working as if the event will happen, but it might not depending on the availability of vaccine doses.

The DOE, however, is prepared to host PODs each Saturday through February at Big Island high schools if the opportunity arises.

According to Honda, the DOH operated the POD with help from the Medical Reserve Corps, DOE keiki nurses and National Guard medics.

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

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