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Hawaii greenlights booster doses for at-risk groups

Health Department says finishing shots for unvaccinated still first priority

Maui Memorial Medical Center will begin providing booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to eligible individuals starting Monday in its main lobby. Hawaii is moving forward with booster shots for higher-risk members of the community, including people over age 65 and individuals ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. However, completing shots for unvaccinated individuals remains the priority, the state said. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Friday authorizing a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for certain populations, the state Department of Health also gave the go-ahead for booster shots and set priorities for higher-risk groups.

The DOH continues to put first and second doses of the vaccine over any booster doses, noting it will ensure that unvaccinated Hawaii residents complete their primary vaccine series. Individuals ages 65 and older and individuals ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions will be given priority for booster shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s strongest recommendations were to provide boosters to these groups, as waning immunity in these populations puts them at highest risk for severe illness, the DOH said.

“As the science and the virus evolves, DOH will continue to make evidence-based decisions to ensure those at highest risk for severe illness have access to vaccines,” said state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char in a news release. “We will have enough booster shots for everyone, but please allow those at highest risk for severe illness to receive their shots first. DOH’s first priority will remain encouraging unvaccinated Hawaii residents to complete their primary vaccine series.”

The department added that if supply allows, providers should consider booster doses for additional populations recommended by the CDC. On its website, the CDC also said people who should receive a booster shot are residents ages 18 years and older in long-term care settings.

The recommendations only apply to those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Individuals who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and fall into the prioritization guidelines should receive a booster dose. Protection provided by the first two vaccinations continues after the six-month mark, the DOH said. Eligible individuals can get vaccinated any time at least six months after their second Pfizer vaccination.

There is no need to rush to vaccination sites, the department said.

While those 65 and older and those ages 50 to 64 with underlying conditions should be given priority, the DOH said other groups who are also eligible to receive booster shots and should be accommodated as vaccine allocation allows include:

• Individuals ages 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions, based on individual benefits and risks.

• Those ages 18 to 64 and at high risk for occupational or institutional exposure, based on individual benefits and risks.

On Friday, CVS announced that the Pfizer booster for eligible individuals is now available at 15 CVS/Longs locations offering the Pfizer vaccine in Hawaii.

The pharmacy’s website showed that online appointments are available at Longs at 135 Kehalani Village Drive and Longs at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. To make an appointment, visit CVS.com.

Maui Health also announced Friday that it will be providing booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine to eligible individuals beginning Monday at its main lobby at the Maui Memorial Medical Center.

This is in addition to the first, second and third doses for eligible residents that Maui Health is currently providing.

Maui Health said it will follow federal and state prioritization guidelines stating that individuals who should have priority include those who are at highest risk for severe COVID-19 disease and/or hospitalization; have already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the last dose received at least six months ago; and also meet the criteria of being 65 years or older, a nursing home resident, an assisted-living resident, a foster home or community care home resident or 50 to 64 years old with underlying health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, asthma, HIV infection, heart disease and obesity.

To accommodate the anticipated demand, the vaccination clinic will be open from 9 a.m. to noon and then from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Because of the anticipated high volume, appointments will be required. Qualified community members can already make an appointment in the Vaccine Administration Management System at vams.cdc.gov for their booster shots.

While the CDC stated that others with certain criteria may receive the Pfizer booster doses, people in these categories are not yet eligible at Maui Health, according to a news release.

Those currently ineligible include people who have already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the last dose at least six months ago, and who are 18 to 49 years old with underlying medical conditions, or those 18 to 64 years old with increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional settings. This includes health care workers, correctional facility staff, prisoners and individuals in homeless shelters.

Maui Health said it hopes to expand booster shot eligibility soon.

For Maui Health’s latest vaccine information, visit mauihealth.org/covidvaccine.

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

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