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Vaccine demand rises: Providers see uptick amid Delta variant, approach of school year

  • Daylon Emia is vaccinated Tuesdaywith the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine by Robin Nakayama at the mobile Premier Medical Group unit at Lokahi Park in Hilo.

As COVID-19 cases climb, so has interest in vaccinations.

Data from the state Department of Health shows the number of vaccines administered in Hawaii County dramatically declined from 3,402 for the week beginning June 13 to 1,170 for the week beginning July 11.

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But that number — which excludes doses administered by federal agencies or the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program — jumped to 1,453 the week of July 18.

The state DOH on Tuesday reported 162 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases, the 13th consecutive day with triple-digit tallies. Twenty-seven were on the Big Island, which has the highest test positivity rate in the state at 7.1%.

“We think people have seen the recent increase in daily COVID-19 case counts and are deciding to get vaccinated,” DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said. “We believe people realize the Delta variant is a real threat and they’d better protect themselves by getting vaccinated. We hope people are realizing schools begin next week, and they can help protect keiki by getting vaccinated.”

Those are sentiments shared by local health care providers who also have noted greater interest in vaccinations recently.

“I think the demand is starting to pick up for vaccines due to (the) increased number of positive cases that we’re seeing on the island and in the state,” said Elena Cabatu, spokeswoman for Hilo Medical Center.

On Friday, HMC’s vaccination clinic at the Arc of Hilo had about 60 walk-ins, which made up about half of appointments that day, Cabatu said.

OVERSET FOLLOWS:Demand was lower on Monday, but more than 20 people walked in and more than 20 scheduled appointments.

“That was a significant increase,” Cabatu said of Friday’s turnout. “Vaccination rates pretty much fell off dramatically, so that was informing us that the demand was waning. Now we’re seeing the demand pick up, so of course, like everyone else, we have to be fluid and adjust to the … ebb and flow of this pandemic. Since we are in a surge and we are seeing demand increase, we adjusted to extend the clinic.”

HMC will extend its vaccination clinic at Arc of Hilo until Aug. 13.

The hospital had been in the process of transferring vaccination responsibilities to the East Hawaii Health Clinic at 1285 Waianuenue Ave., but Cabatu said the Arc of Hilo site can handle administrating nearly 300 doses per day.

“We have definitely seen an increase in activity at our pharmacies compared to a couple of weeks ago,” said KTA Super Stores Director of Pharmacy Kerri Okamura.

According to Okamura, KTA pharmacies had been administering an average of five doses per day, but in the last two weeks have been averaging about 20.

Bay Clinic has seen a small jump in vaccine demand.

“At this time, the number of vaccinations we are doing are much lower than when we first started,” said Bay Clinic CEO Kimo Alameda. “However, since … the number of COVID cases have increased, we have seen a slight increase in our numbers.”

In Ocean View, for example, Bay Clinic administered nine vaccines during a walk-in clinic hosted at Malama Market on July 7, but 24 at a subsequent July 21 clinic.

“We have not been able to see a large increase in the numbers, as people are still hesitant in receiving the vaccination,” Alameda said.

Bay Clinic, however, has had more children coming to get vaccinated ahead of school reopenings next week.

“As the surge continues, we will continue to do as much outreach as we can,” Alameda said. “We continue to look at different options and continue to provide access to those that would like to get vaccinated.”

Premier Medical Group continues to bring its mobile testing and vaccination unit to communities around the county and was at Lokahi Park in Hilo on Tuesday.

Although Premier reported decreased interest in both testing and inoculations through the summer, there’s been an influx of community members seeking both in recent weeks.

“There have been many people who have been exposed or have traveled recently, and are worried that they may have caught the virus since there has been a large increase in cases,” said David Buck, Premier Medical’s Big Island COVID-19 operations manager. “After getting tested, some people decide to get one of the vaccines, while others do not.”

The Premier mobile unit set up outside S. Tokunaga Store in Hilo several days throughout the past month, and more people having been seeking vaccinations at that site on Saturdays. Twenty shots were administered on June 26, 43 on July 17, and 81 on July 24.

“I’ve seen a lot more young people come in for vaccines who may have put it off until now,” said Robin Nakayama, Premier Medical’s COVID-19 nurse. “It’s sad to see the cases come up, but we’re going to keep going to our spots in the community to get as many people tested and vaccinated as we can.”

Among those inoculated Tuesday was Daylon Emia, 19, who decided to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after receiving an email from the University of Hawaii at Hilo about returning to campus.

“I decided to get it, so I can go back to school,” Emia said. “Getting vaccinated makes it a lot easier to go back to class in person, and I really want to go back.”

UH announced in May that students must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to campuses and attend in-person classes in the fall.

Earlier this month, however, the university system said it would not enforce the mandate for students attending class in the fall, citing high vaccination rates among students and employees across the 10-campus system.

In a July 23 letter to faculty, staff and students, UH President David Lassner said there will be, at minimum, a mandatory weekly testing protocol for any unvaccinated students on campus. Unvaccinated students may also be ineligible for some employment opportunities and could be prohibited from participating in certain face-to-face educational activities.

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Photographer Kelsey Walling contributed to this story.

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

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