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State unveils vaccine plan

Gov. David Ige announced on Thursday a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan that will go into effect whenever a safe vaccine is made available to the public.

According to a draft of the plan, Hawaii’s distribution process was developed in conjunction with a nationwide distribution plan by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Operation Warp Speed, which intends to deliver 300 million doses of a “safe and effective” vaccine by the first day of 2021.

Currently, there are four COVID-19 vaccine candidates undergoing large-scale clinical testing in the United States.

“Experts who study immunity tell us, to break the chain of transmission of a virus, at least 60% to 70% of the population must develop immunity to the virus,” Ige said during a news conference Thursday. “A safe and effective vaccine is the best way to reach this level of immunity. Once we reach this level of protection, we can get more aggressive about reviving our economy, getting our keiki back to schools and allowing more normal social interactions and behaviors.”

The program, when it eventually goes into effect, is divided into four stages.

In the first stage, any vaccine likely will be in limited supply, so allocation of the available doses will prioritize high-risk health workers and first responders, adults age 65 and older living in congregated settings such as nursing homes, and people of all ages with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of death from COVID-19.

In the second stage, when supplies of the vaccine are more readily available, doses will be allocated to K-12 teachers and school staff, workers in essential industries who are at high risk of exposure, residents and staff of homeless shelters, group homes, prisons and jails, people of all ages with underlying conditions that put them at moderate risk, and any adults age 65 or older not included in the first stage.

The third phase broadens to include children and young adults up to age 22 and workers in “industries and occupations important to the functioning of society” at moderate risk of exposure.

The final stage, which assumes the vaccine will be widely available, allocates doses to every Hawaii resident who did not have access to it during the previous stages.

Ron Balajadia, the state Department of Health’s immunization branch chief, said it is still too early to tell how long it would take before the state reaches a 70% vaccination rate.

However, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the earliest COVID-19 vaccinations could happen in November, and statewide vaccination beyond the highest-risk demographics could take place between February and May of 2021.

Ige said the program will be funded in part by $800,000 in federal funds, but the state is requesting additional money from the federal government to manage the program.

Green said the vaccine will be free for all, save for a nominal administrative fee.

“We don’t want to have any disparity between people who might be poor and obviously deserve a vaccine just as much as someone who is wealthy or has good health insurance,” Green said.

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

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