UH plans staff vaccinations as DOE employees get innoculated

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Jill Kubojiri leads the line to check in for the COVID-19 vaccine at Keaau High School on Saturday. Teachers were invited to schedule a vaccine at the high school Saturday morning.

As state Department of Education employees begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines, the University of Hawaii also is working to inoculate workers.

In a message to faculty, staff and students on Feb. 9, UH President David Lassner said the state Department of Health and the counties have asked UH to provide a prioritized list of employees in the Phase 1B category.

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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.

According to Lassner’s message, UH has prioritized employees in the 1B group into four sub-categories: 1B-1 includes custodial, security, environmental health services, facilities, 24/7 IT operations, student residence hall staff and child care staff on campus now; 1B-2 includes employees and students whose job duties have required they be on campus three or more days per week, and faculty who are teaching in-person classes; 1B-3 are students residing on campus, student athletes and volunteer athletic coaches; and 1B-4 includes faculty and staff who are teleworking but essential to university operations and resumption of in-person education after the current semester.

The DOH is managing similar lists from across the state and allocating vaccine doses as they become available at specific PODs, or points of dispensing, across the island, he said. Individuals will be notified by email when and where they can schedule a vaccination appointment.

Lassner said that many in the first subgroup on Oahu have begun to be notified.

“We know how concerned everyone is, but we ask for patience until the vaccine supply stabilizes and the process becomes more predictable,” Lassner said. “We are doing all we can to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine doses available are distributed equitably, particularly to those whose current employment duties with UH place them at higher risk.

“We are aware that some individuals have found ways to ‘cut in line.’ While the vaccine is in short supply, this takes away vaccination opportunities from those who need them most.”

At the University of Hawaii at Hilo, administrators are working with the DOH to submit names of employees to be entered into the federal government’s vaccine administration management system, or VAMS, based on the priorities determined by the DOH and university.

“Right now, there is more demand than supply, and the DOH and clinics are still trying to get through the kupuna 75-plus population on island as a priority,” Interim Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza said in a statement provided to the Tribune-Herald. “Since there is limited expansion into the other 1B groups, our employees have been able to set appointments through the VAMS system as slots open up.”

And because vaccine supplies are limited, Rapoza said UH-Hilo has not sought to hold a closed POD just for university employees.

“Doing so at this point would draw precious resources away from elsewhere in the county where it is more urgently needed,” he said. “UH-Hilo recognizes that this is a collective community effort, and we need to move together through the phases of vaccination. We are urging patience on campus. We will all have the opportunity to receive the vaccine.”

Vaccination efforts also are continuing in Big Island public schools.

Approximately 630 DOE staff were given the first dose of the Moderna vaccine Jan. 16 at a closed POD conducted in Keaau for Big Island DOE staff, and another 790 doses of the inoculation were administered at a second POD held recently for DOE employees at Kealakehe High School.

A third POD for department employees was held Saturday, again at Keaau High School.

Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Chad Keone Farias said Saturday marked the second dose for 630 people, and the hope was to administer another 150 first doses of the vaccine.

“I think it’s going well,” he said of the vaccine rollout to DOE staff. “We have to step up, all of us, the Department of Health and Department of Education, to create these PODs so we could create the opportunity for all educators to get vaccinated without interfering with the effort to get our kupuna done.”

Second doses will be administered March 6 at Kealakehe.

According to Farias, the DOE is working with its partners to schedule vaccinations for the approximately 1,200 remaining Hawaii Island educators who have expressed interest in the inoculation.

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Hilo Medical Center also will run a vaccination clinic for educators and health care providers on Feb. 20 at Edith Kanakaole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said vaccinations at the closed POD will be available by appointment only.

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