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Youth step up for vaccinations

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Syerra Ochi, 14, gets vaccinated for COVID-19 at the Arc of Hilo on Tuesday. Children 12 and older can now get their two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Princess Anderson-Kaili, 12, looks at her mom, Jaysha Anderson-Kaili, as Eleanor Day gives her the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Arc of Hilo.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Pika Anderson-Kaili, 15, receives her vaccine from Diana Kreuzer-Nolan at the Arc of Hilo on May 18.

Jaysha Anderson-Kaili last week brought her three oldest daughters — Pika, 15, Alasha, 14, and Princess, 12 — to Hilo Medical Center’s vaccine clinic at the Arc of Hilo, where all four received their first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“With three teenagers locked up, there is only so much beach and mall we can do,” Anderson-Kaili joked. “I also wanted us to be vaccinated for my parents, since they are immunocompromised.”

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She hopes the vaccine helps her daughters find some normalcy in the next school year.

Suzanne Ochi brought her daughter, Syerra Ochi, 14, to the Arc of Hilo for her first dose.

Syerra was hesitant at first, but decided to get vaccinated for her dance classes.

“I am a little nervous to get it, but my dance instructors said we would not have to wear masks during practice if we were vaccinated,” Syerra said.

On May 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12-15.

The EUA originally was issued in December for individuals 16 and older.

During its final mass vaccination clinic on May 15, HMC administered 1,924 doses of the Pfizer shot.

Of those participants, 717 were between 12 and 17 and represented the largest age group, according to hospital administrator Kris Wilson.

“We were excited to see so many of the younger age groups come through,” she said. “We were very thankful to the parents who came with them.”

Wilson said many were excited and were looking forward to traveling this summer with their sports teams or families and were anticipating returning to school in the fall.

There also was a “pretty good turnout” of incoming juniors and seniors last weekend, who were “excited with the prospect of having an actual graduation in their final two years of high school,” she said.

Vaccinations among the younger cohorts have been going well at other Big Island hospitals, as well.

“Most of them are willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Lynn Scully, a spokeswoman for Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea. “It is particularly helpful and comforting for the younger ones when the parents have already been vaccinated.”

Early last week, 125 kids ages 12-15 received their COVID-19 vaccine at QNHCH, in addition to 465 teens 16-17 who have received their inoculation since March.

All told, QNHCH has administered just shy of 16,000 vaccine doses since December, including 6,682 in individuals 18-59; 5,154 in individuals 60-74; and 3,571 in kupuna 75 and older.

Similarly, Judy Donovan, spokeswoman for Kona Community Hospital, said the West Hawaii hospital has had good participation among the younger population.

“Parents who received the vaccine were quick to register this age group for appointments,” she said.

As of last Tuesday, KCH had administered 28 vaccines to those 12-15, with another 103 appointments scheduled, and 234 vaccines to teens 16 and 17, with another 105 appointments scheduled.

KCH has administered another 406 doses to those 18-20; 1,978 vaccines to individuals 21-30; 2,738 vaccines to those 31-40; 2,931 vaccines to individuals 41-50; 4,030 vaccines to those 51-6; 5,254 vaccines to those 61-70; and 4,676 vaccines to kupuna 70 and older.

Hundreds of additional appointments also are scheduled.

But barriers to vaccinations remain.

“One of our challenges continues to be the misinformation about vaccine safety, especially in social media, creating concerns about the safety of the vaccine for these groups,” Scully said.

For KCH, the challenge is twofold.

Vaccine hesitancy or avoidance is causing a slowdown in the rate of vaccinations, Donovan said.

“Communications addressing specific concerns can help alleviate fears and build trust,” she said. “It’s going to require consistent messaging. Also, outreach is needed to the harder-to-reach communities. Those efforts are beginning now and will hopefully help improve our vaccination rates on Hawaii Island.”

HMC has administered more than 40,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine since December. However, a breakdown of total doses administered by age group was not available by press time.

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

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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