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Green: Vaccine counts lagging

Lieutenant governor says thousands of doses undercounted in Maui County

Maui County Deputy Director Josiah Nishita (clockwise from top), Maui County Council Member Kelly King and Lt. Gov. Josh Green appear during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by King on Tuesday night to answer questions about the state’s current vaccine distribution efforts, health and safety protocols and COVID-19 cases counts. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

Lt. Gov. Josh Green estimated that there are about 10,000 to 12,000 undercounted doses in Maui County, which ranks last in the state in the percentage of the population vaccinated.

In Maui County, 9.1 percent of the total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine so far, according to state Department of Health data as of Wednesday. Kauai County had the highest percentage of residents vaccinated with 18 percent, followed by Honolulu County at 14.6 percent and Hawaii County at 12.7 percent.

Maui County is also near last in terms of residents who have completed both doses at 6.4 percent. Kauai County is first with 12.4 percent, while Honolulu County follows at 7.2 percent and Hawaii County is at 5.1 percent.

Health officials have been reassuring residents that each island is receiving a fair share of doses, though community members have been concerned over Maui County’s low distribution rates, especially with the Valley Isle “experiencing a higher volume of visitors” relative to its population, as one lawmaker pointed out.

Green said during a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday night that adding the undercounted doses would put Maui County in line with Hawaii County.

“The prioritization, which is through the Department of Health, is a little more complicated, though I agree that Maui deserves extra vaccines with the extra work that it’s doing and the extra impact on the economy and the extra risk that it takes,” Green said. “The other consideration is how many individuals are in particularly in harm’s way?”

A total of 318,542 vaccines have been administered statewide as of Wednesday, including 296,819 to the public (which is counted through the online Vaccine Administration Management System, or VAMS) and 21,723 via the federal pharmacy program for nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

About 60 percent of those 75 years of age and older (64,077) have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine statewide, out of an estimated 107,600 people statewide over 75.

The state has received 380,310 vaccines and was awaiting orders of 422,490 as of Wednesday. Many more are arriving as the week goes, Green said.

“As of the 2019 population estimates, we have 11.7 percent of the state’s population and rounding down to 10 percent does us a 2 percent injustice,” state Rep. Tina Wildberger of South Maui said during the meeting. “So if you have any pull, at least getting us 12 percent — we are receiving a disproportionate amount of travelers both from residents and visitors coming to Maui.”

On Monday, Maui County received 2,500 Moderna and 2,340 Pfizer doses, with more scheduled to arrive later this week. Public health nursing staff took 40 doses from Oahu to Kalaupapa to conduct a second dose clinic.

“That’s 10 percent of the total that came into the state and our population on Maui is 10 percent of the state’s population, so I want to reassure people of that,” Green said. “You have additional challenges, you have several islands in the county and that makes it harder to do what you do.”

He also made note that health officials take into account the higher risk associated with working in the hospitality industry and for counties that are “open” to tourism.

“It’s an imperfect situation, but the good news is that we’re getting a lot more vaccines,” he said.

The soon-to-be authorized Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will help expedite the rollout statewide, providing Hawaii an additional 20,000 doses per week.

Only 13.9 percent of Hawaii’s total population has been vaccinated so far, but Green anticipates that the state will reach at least 70 percent herd immunity, or 950,000 thousand people vaccinated, by July.

“When we receive 70 percent vaccination status, I believe we’ll achieve a lot more normalcy,” he said. “With each increment of 10 percent, it’ll get safer and safer.”

While striving for herd immunity, Green said that “the variants of COVID-19 on Maui have not been bad” but the DOH continues to sample 300 cases a month statewide to detect any outbreak of the B.1.1.7 variant, commonly referred to as the U.K. variant. In January, the state reported that variant L452R, a strain first detected in Denmark in March 2020, had been found in a case on Maui and on Oahu, though no studies have shown it to spread more quickly or pose a greater threat than other strains, the DOH said at the time.

“We don’t likely have a large number of the U.K. variant,” Green said. “We’re not seeing an undue surge, although we worry, you know, we worry especially right now in Maui where positivity rates have hovered higher than we would like.”

Maui County’s seven-day rolling average is 20 new cases a day, or 10.3 cases per 100,000 people, with Central Maui and South Maui seeing the majority of the reported cases. The county also currently has a 4.3 percent positivity rate, the highest in the state.

In the meantime, Green said there are additional facts to consider in regard to the vaccine distribution — the rollout may occur concurrently between phases; within each phase, vaccinations will be distributed to populations prioritized to the oldest first and then by descending age order; vaccinations may be redistributed if significant outbreaks or clusters occur; and priority groups may be extended to include others if necessary to limit spread of disease and death.

Also, where possible, vaccinations may be distributed to certain populations based on geography and current disease activity, vulnerable communities and socioeconomic status.

“As people wait for vaccinations to occur, we still want to hammer those safety measures home to people, such as physical distancing and not gathering in large groups and definitely wearing face masks,” Maui County Deputy Director Josiah Nishita said during the town hall. “It’s really been amazing to see the community come together through all the different efforts to serve each other and we shouldn’t lose focus on that.”

Wildberger also reminded residents that Maui Health System will begin vaccination distribution efforts at the Kaiser Permanente clinic in South Maui from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Residents will soon be able to register through www.mauihealth.org/covidvaccine once Maui Health finishes giving out doses to people whose appointments had to be rescheduled when the clinic closed in January due to a shortage of doses.

Maui Health spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said Wednesday that Maui Health is vaccinating the last 1,000 of the 5,000 rescheduled individuals.

She explained that part of the reason why doses may be undercounted is because Maui Health is the only one on island using the VAMS online system, allowing vaccines given at the hospital to be automatically entered into the state counts. DOH’s clinic at the college, meanwhile, is using paper forms and must manually enter the administered doses, meaning that the counts can sometimes appear much later.

To register for a vaccination date and location, visit HawaiiCovid19.com/Vaccination-Registration/.

The vaccination registration system is being streamlined to address backlogged or delayed requests, Green said.

As of Friday, 6,500 businesses had submitted an employer vaccination application to move to the preferred vaccination status in Phase 1b.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com. Managing Editor Colleen Uechi contributed to this report.

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