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DOH: Vaccinations to begin for those 65+, Phase 1C

Starting Monday, COVID-19 vaccines will be available to people 65 and older and those included in Phase 1C of the state’s vaccination plan, the state Department of Health announced Thursday.

“This is another huge step in the ongoing effort to protect Hawaii residents from COVID-19,” said state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char in a news release. “We will continue to administer vaccines soon after they arrive and are pleased we can now offer shots to more people.”

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Char said in a video clip provided to the Tribune-Herald that Phase 1C also includes those with significant health co-morbidities, or health issues that might put a person at higher risk for the novel coronavirus.

“For those individuals who have severe respiratory disease and are on oxygen, for those individuals who are on dialysis and for those individuals who are on chemotherapy or other transfusion therapies, we would like to encourage you to … get vaccinated at any time,” Char said.

But because there are about 340,000 people within that high-risk group, and because age correlates well with co-morbidities, the DOH will use “age as a surrogate and we will aggressively open up to different age groups in order to get everybody a timely vaccine.”

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 front-line 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. The state, however, recently expanded eligibility to those who are 70-74.

According to the DOH, essential workers in Phase 1C are people in industries and occupations important to the functioning of society and at increased risk of exposure. This includes people who work in hotels and hospitality, food service, banking and finance, transportation, construction, news media, logistics, information technology and others.

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

All told, statewide there are about 500,000 people included in Phase 1C.

Hawaii’s weekly vaccine allotment from the federal government has gradually increased from about 40,000 doses in early February to more than 62,000 doses this week, the DOH said. This growth is expected to continue.

However, the DOH said Phase 1C is the state’s largest vaccination group, and working through this phase will take a few months.

“We’re really happy we’re gradually getting increased amounts of vaccine in every week, but it’s still not going to be enough to catch everybody all at once,” Char said. “So, we thank people for their continued patience. It’s probably going to take us a few months to get through Phase 1C, but we’re well on our way.”

Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said Thursday’s announcement by the DOH won’t have an immediate effect on the hospital’s vaccination clinic, appointments for which are largely booked out through the end of the month.

But HMC will open registration for the expanded groups on Monday, she said, and once a patient receives an email from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they can schedule a vaccination at any clinic on the island.

Kona Community Hospital will immediately open appointments to people age 65 and older and others in Phase 1C, said Judy Donovan, marketing and strategic development director. Those who pre-registered with the hospital should expect to receive an email as early as today, but no later than Monday, to set up an appointment.

Those who did not pre-register should download a form at https://kch.hhsc.org/covid-19-hospital-preparedness-message/ and submit it via email to KCHCOVIDvaccine@hhsc.org.

To accommodate the increase in people able to receive a vaccine, Donovan said the hospital would expand its Thursday “mega clinics” to inoculate at least 900.

On Thursday, more than 700 people received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Kekuaokalani Gymnasium in Kailua-Kona, she said.

“AARP Hawaii thanks the Department of Health for opening the vaccination process to the 65-plus, who have been waiting so patiently for their chance to get vaccinated,” said State Director Keali‘i Lopez in a written statement.

But, Lopez said, there’s still a lot of hard work ahead to vaccinate all kupuna.

A questionnaire released by the organization this week showed that kupuna who are computer literate are mostly able to make vaccination appointments, and a large number of those 50-64 who are working also have been vaccinated, she said.

“However, the state must make sure sufficient resources and priority are given to kupuna who can’t use a computer, who are homebound and isolate or who are immigrants who don’t speak English,” she said. “They are harder to reach and must not be left behind.

“The state is doing a good job of reaching the low-hanging fruit of people who can make appointments online,” Lopez continued. “But we must expend more effort to climb up the mango tree and get the harder-to-reach fruit.”

Lopez said AARP Hawaii also would like more transparency about the vaccination process and clear explanations for what qualifies as high-risk medical conditions, who qualifies as an essential worker and information about vaccinations by age groupings.

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Registration opportunities for those 65 and older and others in Phase 1C soon will be available through links posted on hawaiicovid19.com and from health care providers throughout the state.

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

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