COVID vaccines require dose of patience


Two days before Christmas, COVID-19 vaccines went into the arms of Maui County’s first responders. That’s when the Maui District Health Office and partners University of Hawai’i Maui College, Hawai’i National Guard and Maui County’s Emergency

Management Agency hosted the first drive-thru vaccine clinic. The long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine gave us a glimmer of hope.

But hope dimmed a couple of weeks later when Maui County’s vaccine supplies ran low. That made us wonder where Hawaii ranked in vaccine allocations when compared to other states.

According to CDC data, as of Feb. 12, the islands had received 310,600 total vaccine doses. That breaks down to 21,909 vaccines per 100,000 residents, which is in the upper median range of all 50 states. Specifically, 21 states got slightly more vaccine per capita and 28 got slightly less.

Then why did COVID-19 vaccinations pause in Maui County?

After the first round of vaccinations, replacement supplies came up short due to mismanagement by the former presidential administration. In January, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar promised to release the nation’s “vaccine stockpile” only to later admit that no such stockpile existed.

The growing shortage trickled down to all state health agencies, including the Department of Health, but Maui County experienced it first. Our medical partners vaccinated residents more quickly and efficiently than other counties. Drive-thru clinics at UH-MC started right away, soon followed by mass vaccination clinics at Maui Memorial Medical Center. When supplies weren’t replenished as expected, remaining vaccines were reserved for second shots as recommended for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That meant suspending first shots — initially within Maui County, then later on O’ahu.

Once vaccinations stalled here, concerned residents started calling my office to ask how vaccines are divided among counties. A common complaint is: “Honolulu is hoarding Maui’s vaccines.” So we asked the Hawaii DOH for some answers.

DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr explained that because the COVID vaccine is not approved for anyone under 16, officials calculate the state’s eligible residents aged 17 and older, then allocates supplies to each county based upon their percentage share of the total eligible population.

The City & County of Honolulu is home to 69 percent of those eligible for vaccines and has received 70 percent of the state’s allotment. The County of Hawai’i has 14 percent of vaccine-eligible residents and has received 12 percent of the supply. Maui County is home to 12 percent of all vaccine-eligible residents and has received 11 percent. The County of Kaua’i has 5 percent of vaccine-eligible residents and has received a 7 percent allocation. So the data shows that, within 1-2 percentage points, the state’s vaccines have been evenly allocated among the counties.

Although vaccine allocations have been equitable, I have still remained in continuous contact with Gov. David Ige, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Hawai’i Health Director Dr. Libby Char, to advocate for more vaccines for Maui County as soon as supplies are available.

Meanwhile, we are seeing good signs of progress. Maui Health Medical Director Dr. Michael Shea reports the team at Maui Memorial Medical Center recently completed most second shots. So those with previously cancelled appointments have begun to reschedule their appointments for first shots. Similarly, the Maui District Health Office has restarted administering vaccinations at locations such as senior group homes. Recently, Longs Drugs in Kahului received limited vaccines for those aged 75 years or older and frontline essential workers who pre-book an appointment at CVS.com.

While we wait for our own turn to be immunized, our best protection from the coronavirus, and its variants, hasn’t changed. Let’s continue to wear face masks, avoid gatherings, keep plenty of distance from others and wash our hands thoroughly and frequently.

After several months of anticipating a vaccine as the safest way back to some sense of normal life, it’s difficult to be patient. We all want to hug our family and friends, travel freely and just live our lives without fear. With patience and time, we will get there together. In the meantime, let’s remember that patience is not the ability to wait, but the capacity to maintain a good attitude while waiting.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.


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