‘Great demand’ for vaccines: Older kupuna, essential workers continue to be priority

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A woman thanks volunteers Wednesday after driving through an Ohana Food Drop with The Hawaii Island Food Basket in Hilo. The organization was able to serve about 3,600 people Wednesday. The Food Basket has been doing the monthly food drops since April 2020, as the pandemic took hold, and has served more than 200,000 people. The next food drop will be in Waikoloa on Friday morning.

Big Island COVID-19 vaccination efforts remain focused on kupuna 75 and older — and likely will be for the next several weeks.

“We understand that there is a great demand for vaccines in our community — especially amongst our kupuna and those most vulnerable,” said Cyrus Johnasen, Hawaii County public information officer. “Our state, county and health care officials are working together to administer the vaccines as quickly as possible while ensuring enough supply for follow-up doses, and we’d like to thank our community for their patience as we move through this together.”


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

The first phase has three components, with an emphasis on high-risk populations.

Phase 1A includes health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, while Phase 1B includes frontline essential workers, such as teachers, and adults 75 and older.

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.

Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said that “coalition of dispensaries” check in with each other regularly, discussing supplies and demand.

By their account, inoculation efforts will focus on the 75-plus age group for the next four to six weeks if the vaccine supply remains consistent, she said.

Cabatu said there are so many individuals in that group, but HMC continues to receive one tray of vaccines a week.

According to Cabatu, HMC has administered about 6,000 vaccines since late December, and nearly 70% of its staff has been vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, the next appointments available at the HMC clinic is March 9, but appointments are being scheduled as far out as March 19.

In Waimea, Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital continues to provide 200 vaccines each weekday and has so far administered more than 4,000.

QNHCH is providing vaccines to those 75 and older, as well as essential workers. Appointments also are booked out through early March.

“No word on when that may be expanded to 1C,” spokeswoman Lynn Scully said. “We are dependent on the national and state supply of the vaccine which is currently a bit unpredictable.”

Kona Community Hospital also is prioritizing those in Phase 1A and individuals over 75.

“We will make a decision soon about when, and what tier group to expand to,” KCH spokeswoman Judy Donovan said.

She estimates the hospital may expand its vaccine offering in two-three weeks, but doesn’t know yet what group that expansion might include.

According to Donovan, KCH has administered 3,088 doses so far, 922 of which were given to kupuna over 75.

The Big Island hospitals have not lost any doses of the vaccine due to spoilage.

Cabatu said HMC is working closely with the state Department of Education to identify employees within 15 minutes of the hospital who could be contacted if extra doses are available.

Extra doses, though, are rare and “really is one or two or three at a time,” Cabatu said. “We’re so careful.”

Donovan said KCH has a call list for employees’ ohana to get doses that may be left over at the end of the day. The ohana member must be able to get to KCH within 15-20 minutes, she said.

“That said, our pharmacy and clinic manager have done an excellent job of monitoring the schedule each day so that we don’t end the day with many (if any) additional doses,” said Donovan.

The number of people who don’t show up for their appointments also is small.

“We do not get a lot of no-shows,” Cabatu said. “This age group is so good at showing up for the vaccination. If they don’t, there’s a very good reason why they didn’t. They also do a good job calling us if they get a vaccination from another location. We’re so grateful for that. It helps us open up the slots to others who (want it).”

Scully said when someone cancels or fails to show, the appointment is filled with someone on the list to be scheduled.

“We are pleased that so many in our community are choosing to protect themselves and their community by getting a vaccine,” she said. “Demand has been high, and we ask that the community be patient as the number of calls and emails requesting appointments has been significant, and it may take days for us to get back to everyone.”

Other organizations, like KTA Super Stores, CVS and Bay Clinic are starting to offer vaccinations.

Although the demand still outstrips the supply, “There’s a big sense of relief there’s more team members on the team, if you will,” Cabatu said.

Donovan said pharmacies that are administering the vaccines not only relieve pressure on vaccine hubs, but help relieve anxiety in the community.

“We are pleased that the vaccine is available in additional locations, making it easier for our community members to get vaccines hopefully close to home,” Scully said.

The state Department of Health also hosts weekly “PODs,” or points of distribution, around the Big Island: 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday at Kona Aquatic Center, from 9 a.m.-noon Wednesday at Waiakea Recreation Center; and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.

Call 300-1120 to schedule an appointment at one of those PODs.

District Health Officer Eric Honda said the number of doses administered at these sites each week has increased from 500 to 800-900. The DOH has administered approximately 5,000 vaccine doses to date.

According to Honda, another 790 doses of the inoculation were administered at a second POD held recently for DOE employees.

Approximately 630 DOE staff were given the first dose of the Moderna vaccine Jan. 16 at a closed POD conducted for Big Island DOE staff at Keaau High School.

The next POD for DOE staff is scheduled for Saturday at Keaau High School, Honda said.

Honda said the DOH also is conducting mobile PODs currently targeting all senior housing complexes.

CVS Health was initially expected to offer a limited number of COVID-19 vaccines at certain Longs Drugs in Hawaii today, but that rollout was delayed until Friday to ensure in-store availability.

Vaccines will be offered by appointment only. Appointments can be made via CVS.com, through the CVS Pharmacy app or by calling 800-746-7287. The scheduling system will open today.


Statewide, 218,999 vaccines have been administered as of Wednesday, up 8,747 the previous day. Nearly 310,000 vaccines have been ordered, and 288,050 have been received.

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

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