Kupuna vaccinations to begin

  • A woman is tested for COVID-19 during drive-through testing Wednesday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.

Big Island hospitals will soon begin vaccinating kupuna against COVID-19.

Hilo Medical Center’s “kupuna clinic” is set to offer vaccines to individuals 75 and older beginning Jan. 20.

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People in that age group can begin the scheduling process by signing up on the hospital’s website, hilomedicalcenter.org. An individual email address is required.

Because some kupuna might have technical challenges signing up, Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which includes HMC, said starting Tuesday the hospital will offer a helpline people can call for assistance with registering. The helpline will be available during regular business hours by calling 932-3000 and pushing 8.

“The general consensus is the elderly population are taking the vaccine at higher rates than the younger (population), mainly I think because of their increased risk,” Brinkman said.

HMC estimates that roughly 5,000 people in East Hawaii over the age of 75 could opt to be vaccinated, he said.

On Jan. 25, HMC will open vaccinations up to essential workers in the state’s Phase 1B prioritization category, along with individuals 65 and older.

“We anticipate a lot of interest, but you know, we think it’s the right thing to do,” Brinkman said, adding that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have pushed for a broader and faster vaccine rollout.

Starting Jan. 25, HMC also will host “Kupuna Hours” from 7-8 a.m. for those who need additional support and do not have access to email or a computer.

The state’s vaccination plan prioritizes distribution of the vaccine into two phases.

The first phase has three components. Phase 1A includes health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, while Phase 1B includes frontline essential workers and adults over 75.

Adults 65-74, people 16-64 with high risk medical conditions, and essential workers not included in 1B can be vaccinated in Phase 1C.

Phase 2 will cover the rest of the population, which includes everyone 16 and older not included in previous categories.

Assistant Hospital Administrator Kris Wilson said the vaccine clinic will be located on the HMC campus and advises that kupuna coming to the vaccine site will need to walk or have someone assist them if they have mobility issues.

Vaccinations will only be done by appointment.

According to Brinkman, the hospital has the capacity to administer 1,000 vaccine doses a week in its clinic. As of Wednesday, HMC had about 2,500 doses on hand, with another shipment due this week.

“We’ve received a number of assurances that if we get them in people’s arms, we’ll get more vaccines.”

“For us, I think we’re very excited to see so many recipients of the vaccine,” Wilson said.

In Waimea, Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital also is scheduling vaccinations for those in the 1B phase.

According to the hospital, essential workers include first responders; correction officers; dispatchers; critical transportation infrastructure workers, such has harbor and dock workers; teachers, child care and education support staff; staff essential for federal, state and local government operations; and U.S. Postal Service employees.

Call QNHCH at 881-4668 to schedule an appointment. Appointments are available Monday-Friday.

The vaccination clinic is located in the annex building on the QNHCH Waimea campus.

In West Hawaii, vaccination plans for those 75 and older are still being finalized at Kona Community Hospital.

Infection Prevention Director Lisa Downing said the hospital has clinics set up through the end of the month to handle vaccinations for first responders, emergency workers and hospital staff, but is working with community partners to open the inoculations up to kupuna 75 and older.

The hospital is tentatively planning to host its kupuna clinics on Saturdays starting in February, she said.

“We’re going to do it until it’s done,” Downing said when asked about projected turnout at the clinic. “It’s just the matter of who can get up here to the facility.”

But Downing said the clinic will be can handle up to 200 people per day, “if it’s scheduled and controlled.”

Vaccines will be administered by appointment only, and scheduling for those appointments has not yet started.

Downing said a call center will be established in the coming weeks to schedule those vaccinations.

Those who are interested in a vaccine should monitor the KCH or state Department of Health websites for more information, and refrain from calling or visiting the hospital, she said.

Both Downing and Brinkman encouraged people to get the inoculation.

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“We have a collective responsibility as community to get vaccinated so we can get back to having normal lives,” said Brinkman.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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