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Health director: Intended second doses went to 1st doses instead

Dr. Libby Char says state being ‘really fair’ in vaccine distribution

State Health Director Dr. Libby Char discussed Maui County’s vaccine distribution during a county news conference Friday afternoon.

Maui’s COVID-19 vaccination sites may have been giving intended second doses of the vaccine to people seeking their first shot, though Hawaii’s health director said this was “completely appropriate.”

“We’ve been sending both second doses and first doses to each of the counties,” Director Dr. Libby Char said Friday afternoon. “I think depending on how the allocation was made on Maui they may have used a lot of the first and second doses for first doses, so now they are using what is coming in for second doses, and that’s completely appropriate. We don’t want to be sitting on any doses just waiting for that four weeks to go by to give it.”

Char, who appeared remotely at a Maui County news conference on Friday, was responding to a question about vaccination sites such as Maui Memorial Medical Center and the state’s Maui District Health Office clinic at the University of Hawaii Maui College currently not accepting people seeking their first shot. Instead, this week they focused on getting second shots administered to top tier individuals.

After not receiving shipments of the vaccine as expected last week, Maui Health, which oversees Maui Memorial’s vaccination clinic, announced last week that it had to close appointments for first vaccinations that were scheduled through Feb. 7. The hospital had begun taking Phase 1b patients, which include essential workers who are not in health care along with those ages 75 or older.

As Oahu rolled out its mass vaccination clinics this week, Maui residents questioned the county’s supply.

Char said Maui County received 4,450 doses this week and is expected to receive 4,100 doses in the coming week.

“It’s been fairly stable about that rate going to Maui County,” Char said. “We would love to be able to send as much vaccine as can be administered right now, we just don’t have that allocation from the federal government yet. We are optimistic that is going to pick up, but right now that’s the allocation we are getting. And we are trying to be really fair and make sure every county has a good allotment of vaccine.”

Char added that they usually find out on Thursdays how many vaccines they can expect for the following week. The Health Department orders as many doses as it can get, she said, adding that the department does not store the vaccines on Oahu.

“The vaccine doesn’t come to us. It comes from the federal government and goes directly to those providers directly that can administer the vaccine, so it’s not as though we are hanging on to it here or we are stockpiling it or anything,” she said. “We order it and it goes directly to the facilities.”

Char also commended her Maui District Health Office staff and Maui Memorial, saying that Maui Health did a “great job” in setting up its program and “getting ahead of it.”

“I’m only sorry that the federal government doesn’t have more vaccine to send to them, because I know they can use it and they could get those shots into our priority populations really quickly and effectively,” Char said. “Thank you to them and thank you for being patient. I know there was a little bit of a mix-up last week, but they have done a great job of getting on board and getting ready and and developing a program ready to go. “

The state of Hawaii has received a total of 154,150 doses and administered 70,095, according to Department of Health data updated Wednesday to reflect the totals from Sunday.

Maui County has administered 10,195 COVID-19 vaccines, second to Honolulu County with 39,886. Hawaii County has administered 7,011 and Kauai County has given out 5,328.

On Friday, the state said preliminary numbers showed that 94,003 vaccines had been administered, an increase of 6,338 from Thursday. It did not specify county totals.

The Health Department’s website also does not break down vaccinations separately for Molokai and Lanai.

The Maui District Health Office said Friday that it has administered 4,526 vaccines on Maui, 240 on Molokai and 220 on Lanai. However, these numbers are separate from the vaccines given out by Maui Health, Molokai General Hospital and pharmacies that have been assisting long-term care facilities.

Bridget Velasco, public health planner with the Maui District Health Office, said the department’s mobile health units have dispensed 346 vaccines.

Velasco said the mobile health units are made up of district health office nursing staff, a Hawaii National Guard medic team and UH-MC nursing students who go out to sites such as community living facilities to administer vaccines.

On Maui, all long-term health care facilities have completed their first doses of the vaccine, Velasco said.

The pharmacies assisting the facilities, Walgreens and CVS, do not have individual vaccination numbers for each county, but instead report them by state, Velasco said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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