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Green asks for patience as doses try to meet demand

Approval of 3rd vaccine could help speed up US distribution process

The hospital’s lobby serves as a vaccination clinic Thursday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

WAILUKU — Lt. Gov. Josh Green toured Maui vaccination sites Thursday, vowing to keep Neighbor Islands top of mind when doses arrive and asking for patience as the state works to roll out enough doses to meet the demand.

Since opening a week ago, Maui Memorial Medical Center’s vaccination clinic for residents in the Phase 1A and Phase 1B priority timelines has about 1,500 requests a day to receive the vaccine, officials said. Also, the closed point of delivery site at the University of Hawaii Maui College for first responders and other frontline workers has had to turn people away due to overwhelming demand. Both sites do not accept walk-ins.

“I can tell there’s a strong demand for the vaccine,” Green said during the county’s news conference Thursday afternoon. “If I could humbly ask, ‘Be patient for the next couple of months.’ “

At the request of Mayor Michael Victorino, Green traveled to Maui for a day to survey Central Maui distribution sites at UH-MC, Roselani Place and Maui Memorial.

Since Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines rolled out on Maui the week of Christmas, Victorino has advocated for the county to receive enough doses to meet demand.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino (far right) and Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green (center) visit the Maui Memorial Medical Center prepping room where staffers load syringes with vaccine Thursday.

“We will be asking and asking and asking the state to give us more as it becomes available to make sure it’s in the people’s arm and they are protected,” Victorino said. “You have our assurance of that.”

Maui Health System, which oversees Maui Memorial, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, said it’s working on opening additional vaccination sites, dependent on dosing availability. A South Maui site may be open in a month and a West Maui location will follow, Maui Health CEO Mike Rembis said during the news conference.

Green said the current demand is around 3-to-1 or 5-to-1 based on available vaccines. However, he said the tides will soon turn. March may be a “tipping point” for Hawaii when it begins to reach equilibrium for vaccine supply and demand, he added.

The federal government promised a vaccine surge in the third week of this month, Green said. Also, the third vaccine, approved in Europe and manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, may accelerate the vaccination program in the U.S.

Currently, Hawaii is in the first of two major tiers for vaccine rollout. Those currently eligible for vaccinations are in Phase 1A — health care personnel and long-term care facility residents — and Phase 1B — frontline essential workers and adults 75 years of age and older.

Napili’s Lori Fernandez takes a selfie as graduate nurse Paul Rabang administers her vaccine Thursday. Fernandez said it felt good to know she will soon have protection against COVID-19. “I’m relieved,” she said.

Statewide, more than 40,386 doses have been administered, according to data as of Saturday. Maui County has had 4,182 doses administered.

The lieutenant governor said he anticipates 75 to 80 percent of Hawaii’s population will be vaccinated.

Both main distribution sites on Maui are experiencing a flood of interest, with some at UH-MC waiting for about two hours, officials said.

Green said the state finds out at 1 p.m. Thursdays how much vaccine it will receive for the following Monday. There is an extra day before it gets to Hawaii due to travel time.

“It’s really not the county’s fault,” he said. “We only get so much.”

The volume of Maui patients can also be attributed to the online Vaccine Administration Management System developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which takes registrations for the vaccine and gives people the option to take the shot either at the Department of Health site at the college or at Maui Memorial Medical Center, the Health Department has said.

People end up reserving a spot at the UH-MC location, which state officials said is actually a closed point of delivery, or POD site, and is still trying to work on vaccinating the 1A top priority tier that includes health care personnel and people who live and work in high-risk facilities such as skilled nursing homes.

Maui Memorial, meanwhile, has moved on to the 1B tier that includes people older than 75, along with frontline essential workers not in the health care field.

Green said Thursday that $10.5 million has been appropriated to help with vaccine rollout in Hawaii and much of the money will be used to support counties with additional hires. Eventually, vaccines will be available at pharmacies and easy and fast to obtain, like flu vaccines.

He vowed to advocate for vaccines to be directed to Maui and other Neighbor Islands as they become available.

“It’s my job to fight to make sure the Neighbor Islands get the same amount of vaccine that they’re entitled to based on population as the guys on Oahu,” said Green, an emergency room doctor from Hawaii island.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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