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Kupuna turned away at hospital vaccine clinic

Questions over unused doses remain as Maui’s sole operating clinic forced to cancel appointments

Loida Villanueva, Maui Health System Gastroenterology-Endoscopy assistant who staffed the Maui Memorial Medical Center vaccination clinic entrance Sunday, said she had to inform about 20 kupuna of the clinic’s temporary closure. She has a vaccination clinic update form that notifies people about appointment changes for eligible people seeking COVID-19 vaccinations. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

WAILUKU — About 20 Maui kupuna showed up Sunday to receive their COVID-19 vaccines only to learn the island’s only open vaccination clinic was forced to close due to lack of supply.

“It was hard to break the news to the older people,” said Loida Villanueva, Maui Health System Gastroenterology-Endoscopy assistant who staffed the clinic entrance Sunday, informing people of the closure. “A lot were elderly.”

Some residents in the 75 and older age group who had appointments at Maui Memorial Medical Center’s vaccination clinic had traveled from Kihei and Lahaina, she added.

Overseen by Maui Health System, the Maui Memorial Medical Center vaccination clinic in the main lobby was the only site on the island to accept new reservations after a state Department of Health location temporarily closed to new first-time appointments.

The temporary closure comes as some wonder why the state is reported to have a high number of unused vaccination doses.

“Just roll up sleeves and get it done, people want action and results,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a KITV report last week.

Maui Health CEO Mike Rembis wondered Friday why unused vaccinations could not be redistributed to clinics with low supplies.

The KITV report said many doses were being stockpiled for a mass vaccination event on Oahu slated to start today.

State Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr said Friday evening that vaccines are managed in an ethical and transparent way, and the distribution is not Oahu-centric.

Doses are not being stockpiled “in a manner that would favor Oahu residents over anyone else in Hawaii, including residents on Maui,” he said.

He added that 2.49 percent of the population on Maui have been vaccinated and 2.68 percent of the population having been vaccinated on Oahu.

A state DOH report Friday afternoon said Hawaii received 152,650 Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, with more than 56,000 administered. It did not break down brands of doses received or administered.

Maui hospital officials on Friday were trying to acquire enough doses to stay open. On Saturday, the site announced that due to lack of supply, it would close Sunday and restructure its daily operations and hours moving forward.

The hospital clinic, which administers only Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations, will temporarily close to first-time doses scheduled Sunday through Feb. 7.

It will administer only second doses starting today until consistent supply is available.

The clinic also moves from daily hours to 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays only. It will close Monday, Jan. 25, the announcement said.

Individuals impacted by first dose postponement were notified via email and placed on the priority list to receive the Pfizer vaccine as soon as the clinic can get consistent supply from the state.

Although no new registrations are being accepted, if a resident has already submitted an appointment request form and is still having issues, email mh-covid-vaccine@kp.org, the announcement said.

Since the vaccine clinic at the hospital began Jan. 8, it has administered more than 3,000 doses to community members and more than 1,000 doses to employees and providers. The clinic was accepting registrations from residents in Phase 1A — health care personnel and long-term care facility residents — and Phase 1B — frontline essential workers and adults 75 and older.

The state DOH Maui District Health Office point of distribution site at University of Hawaii Maui College, which administers only Moderna vaccinations, closed last week to new registrations.

A Maui District official on Friday said the temporary closure will allow the site to administer second vaccinations to first responders and frontline health care workers who have already received their initial Moderna vaccines.

Baehr said Maui Memorial’s clinic is slated to receive two trays of the Pfizer vaccine (each tray has 975 doses), with one arriving Tuesday and the other Thursday.

He said 2,000 doses of Moderna are also scheduled to arrive this week for UH-MC’s site, along with another 500 doses of Moderna for a possible Kaiser Kihei clinic.

Hospital spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda, who was at the clinic early Sunday hoping kupuna wouldn’t show up, said the shortage has been hard on the hospital team.

Staff has been working around the clock to answer questions from the clinic email and hotline. Employees have also been assisting kupuna so that when they can get their first doses, they will be ready to go, she said.

“We’ve had to cheer each other up,” Dallarda said. “We’ve put so much work and heart behind this effort. It’s been tough on us.”

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

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