Hilo hospital seeing high demand for COVID vaccine from kupuna 75 and older as rollout continues

  • GREEN

  • CABATU

Because of the high demand for the COVID-19 vaccine from kupuna 75 and older, Hilo Medical Center will delay its vaccination rollout to individuals 65-74.

People within that age group, however, can now pre-register for the vaccine, said hospital spokeswoman Elena Cabatu.

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Emails used to register must be unique to the individual, and HMC will keep in touch as vaccination appointments become available.

The pre-registrations can be done online at hilomedicalcenter.org. There also is a video that shows what the registration process entails.

According to Cabatu, HMC has administered more than 3,800 vaccines since Dec. 23, and another 4,000 appointments are scheduled in the coming weeks.

That includes a large number of first doses for kupuna older than 75 and second doses for other front-line health care providers, she said.

Another 9,000 individuals 65 and older, as well as other front-line workers, have pre-registered and are waiting to register and schedule appointments.

According to Cabatu, HMC was initially anticipating vaccinations for the 65-74 group would begin shortly after the signups, but it will now be “pushed out farther than that” because of “exceedingly high” demand from the older population.

It’s difficult to give a definitive date on when the vaccinations will be available for the 65-74 age group because its dependent on the vaccine supply and demand from the 75-and-older age group, she explained.

HMC, however, “is committed to giving out a little over 200 shots a day,” or about 1,000 doses a week, which is the hospital’s capacity as long as it continues to receive vaccines.

“The kupuna are definitely leading by example,” Cabatu said. “They are part of the generation that trusts science, trusts vaccinations, and it’s really heartwarming to see them sign up.”

Help is available to those who don’t have access to a computer or other support, she said.

A helpline is available during regular business hours by calling 932-3000 and pushing 8.

“You can hear in their voice how eager they are to get the vaccine,” Cabatu said about the kupuna. “They want to protect themselves, and we want to do our part in helping them sign up to receive the vaccine.”

For its part, the state’s vaccination rollout is doing well, said Lt. Gov. Josh Green on Monday during a livestream.

As of Monday, Green said, more than 106,600 shots have been given out of nearly 189,000 doses. The remaining doses are planned for people receiving second doses of the vaccine throughout the next two weeks and, in some cases, new initial doses.

A new batch of 36,250 doses “will be able to help us move the ball down the field,” he said.

“We want to do it right,” Green said about the state’s vaccination efforts. “Sometimes, just racing forward and doing something fast isn’t the best approach.”

According to Green, a Big Island physician, every 100,000 people who are vaccinated will save between 450 and 1,200 lives.

Green said he expects an uptick in the number of vaccine doses available in March.

Moderna, one of two companies producing COVID-19 vaccines that received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December, will increase its production capacity by 30%, he said.

Another uptick will happen when vaccines from Johnson &Johnson and AstraZeneca are approved.

Aiding the effort is the fact that the Johnson &Johnson vaccine is a single shot and is not required to be kept at ultra-low temperatures.

“So, that will make it much more possible to do it straight out of pharmacies, to do it like we do the regular flu vaccine,” Green said.

The efficacy of that vaccine looks like it’s about 82% or 83%, he explained, “but that’s going to be sufficient to help a lot more people in a more easy fashion.”

The state’s vaccination plan prioritizes distribution of vaccines in two phases.

The first phase has three components. Phase 1A includes health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, while Phase 1B includes front-line essential workers and adults older than 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.

Green anticipates phase 1A and 1B will be completed toward the end of February.

When asked about a projected timeline in regard to a return to normalcy, Green said he’s working on an overall road map for the state.

Completing Phase 1B means 200,000 of the most vulnerable people will have been vaccinated, he said, which gives Hawaii’s mayors some additional capacity to open up because it means less risk to residents.

That’s also an opportunity to re-evaluate interisland travel rules, Green said.

Completing vaccinations in Phase 1C means another 250,000 people have been inoculated.

“Then we are fundamentally safe for our kupuna and for our essential workforce and health care workforce,” Green said. “That’s when we really should ask ourselves, ‘Can we not open up and allow people to travel to Hawaii, provided they’re immunized, without having to do any kind of pre-test?’”

Those in Phase 2 have the lowest risk of severe disease and will be getting “pretty widespread immunity” through herd immunity, he said.

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“This is a stepwise way to get back to normal, so that mid-summer, come July 4, when most people are vaccinated, we begin to put COVID completely in the rearview mirror,” Green said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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