Thousands could be vaccinated Saturday during large-scale clinic for UH, DOE employees

  • Chad Keone Farias

  • Elena Cabatu

The Big Island’s largest-ever COVID-19 vaccination POD, or point of dispensing, is scheduled for Saturday at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo.

According to Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu, the POD is ready to administer 2,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to employees of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hawaii Community College, the state Department of Education and other educational entities.

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“It’s a closed POD, so we’ve been working directly with points of contacts like the university, the schools, preschools and all the educators out there in the community.” Cabatu said Thursday.

She added that because the POD will be administering the Pfizer vaccine, those who have received a first dose of Moderna vaccine aren’t eligible for Saturday’s event.

Cabatu said HMC employees will be administering the shots, assisted by nursing and pharmacy students.

Those being vaccinated are in the Phase 1B priority group, which includes educators and other frontline essential workers.

That group also includes seniors 75 and older, who — after registration on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Vaccination Administration Management System website — continue to be vaccinated by appointment as supplies allow.

Cabatu reiterated that the POD is not open to the general public.

“People can’t just roll up and ask for a vaccine,” she said. “When we get through these groups, we’ll do what we can to get to the next group. But it’s all dependent on supply.”

Chad Keone Farias, superintendent of the DOE’s Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa complex area, noted there have been previous closed vaccination PODs on school campuses — including one at Keaau High School that vaccinated 630 employees with the Moderna vaccine.

Asked what percentage of Big Island school employees are interested in being vaccinated, Farias replied, “It’s hard to get a real percentage, but if I could be qualitative, I’d say the response has been great.”

Farias said after an initial sign-up period for Saturday’s clinic, he reopened sign-ups on Thursday.

“It’s a bunch of work for my people who have been working on this after hours,” he said. “They have their daily jobs, but they said, ‘Hey, boss, let’s open it up.’ I said, ‘You know it’s going to be a long night,’ but they said, ‘Yes, let’s work.’

“So we’re opening it up for one last push.”

Kalei Rapoza, UH-Hilo’s interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs, said he did not know how many employees signed up for Saturday’s POD, but added he’s “received a lot of emails” from interested individuals.

Rapoza said the university has been gathering the names of its Phase 1B employees for about a month so they can be registered for vaccination appointments.

“In waves, we’ve been sending them to the Department of Health, so the Department of Health can register them into the VAMS system,” Rapoza said. “Only certain organizations can enter people into the VAMS system, so we have to send our names to the Department of Health or the Hilo Medical Center. Once their into VAMS, they can register (for a vaccination appointment) on their own.

“… So when Hilo Medical Center let us know about this opportunity for the education sector, we put a call out just to let people know if you’re already in VAMS, go ahead and sign up (for Saturday’s POD) if you don’t already have an appointment. If you have an appointment, then keep your appointment, and let’s leave these spots open for other folks.”

Rapoza said the university encourages employees to be vaccinated, “but we’re not pushy about it.”

“It’s a personal choice,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said during a Facebook Live stream Wednesday he’s hoping public schools can reopen for in-person instruction by the fourth quarter of this academic year, but noted some heavy logistical lifting that would have to occur to make that happen.

Rapoza said it’s unlikely the university — which is on the semester system — will reopen its campus for in-person instruction anytime this spring, considering many students aren’t on island or in state.

Looking beyond Saturday’s event, Cabatu said HMC is “still very focused on certain groups in our population that still need to get the vaccine.”

“Until we get through those specific groups, we can’t move on to the 65-pluses and the (Phase) 1Cs.” she said.

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

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

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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