HMC expands eligibility for COVID vaccine; Hospital opens early registration for people who are 50-64 years old

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Pharmacist Megan Paik Arbles gives Kapuokalani Andrati a COVID-19 vaccine Monday at KTA Puainako in Hilo.

Hilo Medical Center on Monday opened up early vaccine registration to individuals ages 50-64.

Assistant Hospital Administrator Kris Wilson said the hospital will this week begin processing the sign-ups to allow those individuals to register and schedule appointments at upcoming mass vaccination clinics planned for April 3 and 24 at Edith Kanakaole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo.

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Both clinics will administer 5,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. HMC’s last mass vaccination effort provided more than 4,000 shots on March 13.

HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the hospital needed to open its clinics to a larger population to ensure the POD is utilized to its fullest extent and can deliver 5,000 doses.

She said the state Department of Health had no objection to the move.

The state recently entered Phase 1C of its vaccine rollout, which includes adults 65-74, people 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions and essential workers not included in Phases 1A and 1B.

Many in the 65-plus age group will have already received vaccine doses by the beginning of April, Wilson said.

“We want to make sure if our goal (for the POD) is 5,0000, we reach that.”

Cabatu said some in the 50-64 age group are those who recently retired and could not get a vaccine through an employer and were not old enough to previously register.

“It’s a good thing for us to be able to open this up to them, because they really want it,” she said.

According to Wilson, there are an estimated 33,000 people islandwide in the 50-64 age group who have not been vaccinated.

Between 7,000 and 9,000 vaccines are administered countywide each week, she said.

But although individuals 50-64 can register for vaccines, Wilson said this group won’t actually receive shots until early to mid-April.

Opening eligibility to a wider age range allows HMC “flexibility to fill these PODs early on, so we’re not scrambling close to the date of the mass vaccine clinic to register recipients,” Wilson said.

Cabatu said the last POD was full a week prior, which took pressure off its organizers and allowed HMC to prepare for the clinic itself.

For more information or to pre-register, visit hilomedicalcenter.org.

Those who schedule for the mass vaccination clinic must be able to walk a mile and stand for 30 minutes.

According to the administrators, HMC’s regular vaccination clinic — which recently moved from the hospital campus to the Arc of Hilo, located at 1099 Waianuenue Ave., and administers 300 doses per day — has appointments scheduled through April 17.

HMC has administered more than 19,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine since late December.

Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea has so far administered about 9,500 vaccine doses, and spokeswoman Lynn Scully said the expansion to the 65-plus group has gone well.

Appointments are booked through the first week of April.

According to Scully, QNHCH currently is vaccinating health care workers, essential workers, those 65 and older and those 16-64 who meet the specific medical criteria set by the state.

She is unsure when they will expand eligibility.

“We have been following the state’s guidance” Scully said.

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.

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.

The DOH also has sub-prioritized those in Phase 1C who are on dialysis, have severe respiratory disease who are on oxygen and those undergoing chemotherapy or other infusion therapy.

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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 Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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