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COVID-19 vaccine provides a big dose of hope for our county

Our County

The COVID-19 vaccines are here. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed, tested and approved in record time, and not a moment too soon.

Both vaccines require two doses — the first shot starts to build up protection and a second shot, three or four weeks later, boosts immunity. But plan to keep your masks. Studies needed to approve the vaccine didn’t include whether it prevents someone from carrying COVID-19 and spreading it to others. So even after your second vaccine, continue to protect others by following public health guidelines until the Centers for Disease Control gives the all-clear.

States are rolling out their vaccination schedules under CDC guidelines. Hawaii’s DOH plan has two phases. The first is broken into three priority groups: Group 1a: Health care workers and long-term care facility residents; Group 1b: Frontline essential workers and adults 75 years of age and older; and Group 1c: Adults aged 65 to 74, those aged 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions and all other essential workers. Phase 2, expected to start in early summer, will include anyone over the age of 16 who wants a vaccine. If all goes according to plan, anyone who wants a vaccine should have one before Labor Day.

So far, more than 40,000 Hawaii people have had at least one dose. On Monday, Lt. Governor Josh Green announced the state’s vaccination program will ramp up quickly, aiming for 100,000 during January and 150,000 per month from February to May.

The Hawaii DOH is working with county, state and federal agencies, hospitals, pharmacies and other health care providers to safely administer the vaccines.

Maui Memorial Medical Center recently expanded its COVID-19 vaccination clinic to include kupuna aged 75 and older. Those who qualify should visit www.mauihealth.org and click on the “community vaccinations underway” tab to schedule an appointment. After submitting an appointment request form, expect to receive an email from VAMS, the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System, explaining how to complete the process. If you need help with online forms, just ask for help by calling the state Department of Health’s call center at (808) 586-8332 from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Residents who don’t yet qualify for a vaccine can visit www.hawaiicovid19.com for more information about Hawaii’s program.

The vaccine isn’t a “silver bullet.” It’s simply an advanced weapon in the war against the pandemic. Other weapons include widespread testing, early exposure notification and our trustworthy public health guidelines.

We’re still coping with the spike that followed the holidays. Maui County is the only county to offer free rapid COVID tests to residents. Under this program, 15,381 tests uncovered 327 positives. Tests taken between Jan. 3 to 10 revealed community spread accounting for 80 percent of the positives; 18 percent were residents linked to recent travel, and 2 percent were visitors. Testing also showed an encouraging decline in the Harbor Lights cluster — just three positives from the latest round of 119 tests, with more scheduled for Saturday.

Lab-confirmed infections are counted as confirmed cases, so case counts depend on the volume of tests given. Widespread testing finds more asymptomatic cases, allowing contact tracing to stop new transmissions. Maui County conducts COVID-19 testing much more aggressively than any other Hawaii jurisdiction. Residents may register for a free test at www.minitmed.com/pre-register-maui-covid-19.

Another effective weapon is the free AlohaSafe app, Hawaii’s official exposure notification system. The app uses your mobile phone to detect cellphones of other people you’ve been in close contact with over the past 14 days. If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you will receive an alert suggesting you get tested. It is anonymous and resident participation is voluntary. Download the AlohaSafe app from the Apple or Google Play store.

Baseball legend Yogi Berra famously said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” That includes COVID-19. It ain’t over yet folks, but the end is near. For 10 months we’ve been told it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Marathon runners know the final stretch is the hardest because of mental and emotional exhaustion. But we can’t give up now. We can see the finish line. Let’s keep going.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government.

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