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State could hit 70% vaccination goal by September

  • CHAR

If current inoculation rates hold steady, it could be early September before 70% of Hawaii’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, state health officials told lawmakers Friday.

State Health Director Dr. Libby Char and acting state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble spoke to the state Senate Committee on Health and the state House Committee on Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness during abriefing on vaccine distribution and efficacy.

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According to information provided by Char, 64.7% of Hawaii residents, or 920,534 people, have received at least one vaccine dose, while 58.1%, or 826,289 people, have been fully vaccinated.

“Compare that to the national average, I think we’re doing quite well,” Char said. “We’re at least about 10% higher for both initiated as well as completed vaccination.”

Nationally, 55.1% of people have had at least one dose, while only 47.6% have been fully vaccinated.

In Hawaii County, 63% of residents have started their vaccines, and 54% have completed a vaccination series.

“We’re trying to get to 70%,” Char said. “I know there’s been a lot of questions about that. We’re almost at 60%. … We’re doing well, we’re making progress. Vaccination efforts have slowed a little bit, which is kind of what we expected. There was a big rush initially, and we were very grateful for that. Then, over time, we have to make sure we’re doing a bit more outreach and being more focused in our efforts to get vaccination out to people. So it’s slowing.”

Char said about 20,000 vaccine doses are being administered each week, but those numbers have been as high as 90,000 a week at the peak.

“If we can get 169,000 more people out of our 1.4 million fully vaccinated, we get to 70%,” she said. “And … of that population that we still need to get vaccinated, almost half of them have already gotten their first shot. … In the next three weeks, we would expect that those who have gotten their first shot will get a second shot. That will give us about a 5% boost, and so really it’s another 5% that we really need to get two doses into.”

If the rate of vaccination remains at least 20,000 per week, Char said it would take another 8.5 weeks to reach that 70% benchmark.

Gov. David Ige has previously said that when the state reaches a fully vaccinated rate of 70%, all COVID-related emergency restrictions will be dropped, and the state’s Safe Travels Program will end.

Char also commented about the efficacy of the vaccines.

In June, 116 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, more than 96% of whom were not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Nearly all cases the state has seen since vaccination efforts began are in those who are not fully vaccinated, she said.

“Said another way, I think if you’re vaccinated, it really, really protects you,” Char continued. “The chances of you catching COVID if you’re fully vaccinated are significantly less than those who are not vaccinated.”

Those who are fully vaccinated against the virus can still contract COVID-19, however.

According to Char, there have been 291 “break through” cases reported out of the 825,382 people who are fully vaccinated, representing 0.036% of those vaccinated, or roughly four cases for every 10,000 people who are inoculated.

“Which is another way of saying that the vaccination really, really works. It is definitely protective.”

Kemble spoke about vaccine availability for keiki.

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in individuals 12 and older, but both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting studies for children under 12.

Three different age groups — 6 months to 2 years, 2 to 5 years and 5 to 12 years — are currently under study.

“The evaluation of the 5- to 12-year group is the furthest along at this point,” Kemble said. “We often get asked when do we anticipate the (emergency use authorization). We don’t have an answer to that yet, but we are watching the studies closely to see if we can get a better sense of when that will come through.”

According to Kemble, more than 15,000 vaccine doses have been administered at clinics held at 80 state Department of Education schools, 19 non-DOE schools and five universities.

Twenty-two of these have been held on the Big Island.

Although nine other vaccines are currently required for K-12 students, the COVID-19 vaccine currently is not required to attend DOE schools.

“Mandatory vaccinations in schools are determined through a comprehensive process that includes establishing a working group and public hearings,” Kemble said.

She also spoke about risks associated with athletics.

According to Kemble, outdoor sports are low risk, while indoor sports pose a higher risk but with proper masking are a medium risk.

“What is most high risk for sports is actually not on the playing field itself in most cases,” Kemble said. “It’s in locker rooms, in enclosed weight rooms, things that happen on the sidelines, getting to and from practice, social events that may occur with the team sometimes.

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“So, from a DOH perspective, we want to communicate that risk, make sure that teams and coaches understand that risk and know that the best way to prevent issues, clusters, cases on temas is for everyone on the team to get vaccinated,” she said.

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

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