Hawaii is expecting to receive more than 81,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna by the end of December.
Gov. David Ige said during a news conference Thursday that the first round of vaccines could arrive as early as next week.
“This pandemic has cost Hawaii residents so much — the lives of their loved ones, our health and our economic security,” Ige said. “Every day I feel your pain through the people I meet and the stories you’ve shared with me. But today marks a hopeful moment in our fight against this pandemic.”
A vaccine, he said, is vital to keep the COVID-19 situation from becoming worse and is the beginning of Hawaii’s path to recovery.
The news conference came hours after a U.S. government advisory panel endorsed the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. Shots could begin within days, should the Food and Drug Administration approve an emergency use authorization.
Throughout December, the state is expected to received 45,825 doses from Pfizer and 36,000 doses from Moderna, if emergency use authorizations are granted for both vaccines.
Those initial doses will require a second injection 21 and 28 days later, respectively.
“This may be the largest immunization campaign in the history of our state, and I’m confident that the Department of Health is ready and able to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to coordinate the vaccine distribution.”
According to Ige, the DOH began planning for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine months ago. Over the past few weeks, with limited information from federal authorities, the department been fine-tuning the state’s vaccine plan in anticipation of the first shipment.
“I trust the science and plan to be vaccinated as soon as I am able and my place in line comes up,” Ige said.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who said he too will take the vaccine when it’s available, provided information about the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
Green said clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine, which has shown to be 95% effective, began in July and it has been “very well tolerated.”
The vaccine results have been consistent across age, gender, raced and ethnicities, “which is very important to us because we’re a very multi-ethnic culture.”
Similarly, the Moderna vaccine, which will go before the advisory panel in about a week, also began clinical trials in July and has a 94.1% efficacy.
It too is generally well tolerated, with responses consistent across age, race, ethnicity and gender demographics.
Green said the federal government is paying for the cost of the vaccine, but there are some circumstances where a small administration fee could be applied.
However, insurance companies have agreed to cover those costs, he said.
According to the state, Pfizer will “pre-position” the first shipment of 4,875 doses of the vaccine in Hawaii.
Providers, however, will not be able to begin to vaccinate individuals until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices provides guidance on who can be vaccinated. That guidance is expected in the coming days.
State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said it’s important to wait for this guidance because the recommendations could alter who gets prioritized for vaccines.
Currently, according to Char, vaccines will first be administered to a priority group of high-risk health care workers and employees and residents of long-term care facilities.
Vaccines may be offered to the next priority group, essential workers, as they are completing the vaccinations of the first group.
Following the inoculation of those groups, vaccines will be made available to other priority groups, including first responders and adults with high-risk medical conditions.
“As we finish all of these populations, that represents phase one of the three vaccination phases outlined in the state plan,” Char explained.
Phase two will include other critical groups not included in the first phase, and phase three includes broad public availability of the vaccine, she said.
According to Char, who said vaccination is the DOH’s top priority, said phase one is expected to be finished by February. The state will move into the following phases shortly thereafter.
“Once the vaccine begins to arrive, I expect we’ll receive a robust supply that will allow vaccination of our entire community,” she said. “Our work is just beginning, but together with our partners, we’re confident in our plan to vaccinate this initial phase of essential health care workers who continue to go above and beyond every day and put themselves at risk to care for others.”
Char said there are about 35,000 people in Hawaii in long-term care facilities and another 35,000 front-line health care workers eligible for the first round of vaccines.
Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said the organization and its members are working closely with the DOH to prepare for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers across the state.
Many hospitals are operating as “vaccination hubs,” he said, meaning hospitals will vaccinate their own employees as well as other health care workers in the community.
Meanwhile, CVS and Walgreens, through a federal partnership, will assist long-term care facilities with inoculation efforts.
Today’s news is promising, but Ige said the community cannot let its guard down.
The science, he said, remains clear: Mask wearing, hand washing and keeping distance are an effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“These measures we know need to continue even as vaccinations become available and are distributed, and even as members in our community get vaccinated,” Ige said. “We need to maintain our vigilance. I continue to ask everyone to continue the sacrifices that have made Hawaii the leader in the world in containing and reducing the spread of COVID-19.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.