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Vaccinations stall on Maui

Oahu holds mass events and Kauai is ahead of schedule

The Pfizer vaccine is administered by graduate nurse Jodi Mormon last month at Maui Memorial Medical Center. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

As Hawaii leaders discussed ramping up vaccination efforts across the state Tuesday, Maui residents continued to wonder why their only community vaccination sites have been closing down to first doses.

“A lot of us want to know, if we are having our vaccine appointments canceled due to the lack of vaccine, why are the mass vaccination taking place,” Kahului senior citizen John Buck said via email Tuesday. “I feel the individuals who have appointments should receive vaccinations before the mass distribution.”

If supply continues at this rate, Maui Health said it may not even reopen to first doses until the end of February, a hospital spokeswoman told The Maui News on Tuesday.

Between Oahu, Maui, Hawaii island and Kauai, Maui is the only island that doesn’t have registrations available for eligible residents’ first-time doses, according to the state’s COVID-19 website, a vaccine registration hub.

Both of Maui’s only two community distribution sites — at its main hospital and at its college — were recently closed to first doses until further notice.

Meanwhile, mass vaccinations on Oahu, such as one at Pier 2 and another at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii’s Mapunapuna Medical Office, began Monday to inoculate hundreds of first-dose senior citizens.

When asked Tuesday afternoon whether vaccines could be redistributed from Oahu to Maui, state Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr said the department works to ensure vaccines are distributed around the state in a fair and equitable manner.

“Sixty-nine percent of the state’s population age 16 and older resides on Oahu,” he said. “Seventy percent of the state’s vaccines have been allocated to Oahu thus far.

“Eleven percent of the state’s population age 16 and older resides in Maui County,” Baehr added. “Eleven percent of the state’s vaccines have been allocated to Maui County thus far.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Tuesday during a news conference on COVID-19 vaccine distribution updates that Kauai has done a few more vaccines proportional to its population than the average.

He added that Maui is “right at the standard.”

Officials said during the news conference that vaccination efforts are being bolstered across Hawaii. Point of distribution sites, hours and tables are being added among 45 Hawaii entities vaccinating residents.

“Our vaccination efforts have increased in speed and efficiency,” state DOH Director Dr. Libby Char said. “We’re seeing the hospitals ramping up, the clinics ramping up, the (point of distribution sites) have increased their capacity, and so we’re really grateful for that.”

However, they cautioned that doses remain in short supply, echoing that Hawaii is at the mercy of the federal government.

On Thursdays, the federal government notifies the state of its allocation for the following week, and Hawaii requests the maximum possible amount, Char said. Doses go directly from the federal government to distribution facilities; DOH on Oahu “doesn’t see it or touch it.”

Due to limited supply, Green asked that eligible members of the public allow kupuna to get vaccinated first.

He added that the state hopes to vaccinate everyone in Phase 1A and 1B by the end of February. Phase 1A includes 50,000 health care workers and 10,000 kupuna in care homes; Phase 2B includes 109,000 kupuna 75 years and older and 50,000 frontline workers; and Phase 1C covers 148,000 individuals 65 years and older, people ages 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions and essential workers not recommended for vaccination in Phase 1B.

Maui Health System, which oversees Maui Memorial Medical Center’s distribution site that was focusing on vaccinations for people 75 and older, had to cancel about 5,000 first-dose appointments Sunday and through this week due to short supply. The site administers only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires a second shot after three weeks.

DOH’s Maui District Health Office point of distribution site at University of Hawaii Maui College, which had focused on health care and frontline workers, closed to first doses last week. The site administers only Moderna, which requires a second dose after four weeks.

Both sites implemented condensed schedules this week and in the future to now administer second doses only. The hospital has both an appointment-based and walk-in schedule. The college has appointments only; no walk-ins are accepted.

Green said at the news conference that DOH received more than 58,000 vaccine doses last week and is expecting roughly 33,400 doses to come in by Thursday. Char said 19,000 of those doses are first-time doses, while the rest are second doses.

Hawaii has been completing roughly 18,000 first doses each week, Green added.

The lieutenant governor said Hawaii had a surge of cases over the holidays. As of Jan. 5, the state had a seven-day average of 139.6 cases, a 3.48 percent positivity rate and 105 people in the hospital.

As of Tuesday, the seven-day average was 122.3, positivity rate was 2.54 percent and 95 were hospitalized.

Green said Hawaii has the lowest case rate per 100,000 in the U.S. Over the entire pandemic, the state has had the lowest death rate per 100,000.

“We’re currently the best state in the country,” he said.

He asked for continued patience as the state rolls out vaccines. The federal government has indicated a surge in vaccines should be coming toward the end of this month.

The governor emphasized that the state is moving as quickly as possible with the distribution process.

“We are in a situation where the demand for the vaccine exceeds our supply,” Gov. David Ige said during the news conference. “We are happy there is high demand for the vaccine and will ensure that we are using all of the doses allocated to Hawaii.”

Until the vaccine is widely administered, Ige asked that people continue safe practices such as wearing masks, washing hands and physical distancing.

“By doing this, and getting vaccinated when it’s our turn, we can protect public health, revive the economy and strengthen our communities,” he said.

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

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