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For Maui County, the best way to care for one another is vaccination

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

With COVID-19 cases hitting record numbers in Hawaii nearly a year and a half into the pandemic, many are wearily asking, “How we will get through this?”

The answer is, as always: Together.

It’s likely you’ve heard differing views about the risks and benefits of vaccination on social media and from friends and family. It’s an issue that can cause stress and confusion — with potentially severe consequences in the form of higher rates of infection and more serious medical problems for unvaccinated patients.

Our best hope for getting back on the road to ending this pandemic is to educate ourselves from reliable sources and to follow the latest public health guidelines.

According to the experts, we need to get vaccinated, adhere to social distancing, avoid large crowds and wear a mask when in close proximity to others or when required.

I recommend the following websites for medically accurate information about why and how to get vaccinated:

• Maui Nui Strong, produced by the County of Maui: mauinuistrong.info.

• State Department of Health: health.hawaii.gov/coronavirusdisease2019/.

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov. Research by the National Association of Counties reveals three main reasons unvaccinated people are hesitant:

• Long-term or short-term side effects.

• Nonacceptance of governmental mandates.

• Indifference to being vaccinated.

The council is treating residents who have these concerns with respect. We’re trying to counter the hesitancy with accurate and digestible information, from trusted community members, to answer questions about vaccines.

The council’s Human Concerns and Parks Committee on Sept. 2 hosted Michael Rembis, CEO of Maui Health System, for a lively — and sobering — discussion about conditions at Maui County health care facilities. I recommend watching a replay of the video at mauicounty.us.

With the onset of the COVID-19 surge in our community, Maui Memorial Medical Center is at the brink of capacity. Rembis told the committee the hospital continues to bring in additional workers and recently secured a backup supply of oxygen, which is critical to treating COVID patients.

Rembis told the committee the delta variant is “alarming.” It spreads more easily and has more negative health consequences than earlier versions of COVID.

Delta is affecting “much younger people,” with some fatal cases even for those in their 20s and 30s. He acknowledged there are some “breakthrough” cases of vaccinated patients getting infected, with most of those from lengthy and close exposure to symptomatic COVID-positive family members.

Who is spreading the virus? “It is us,” Rembis told the committee.

“What is causing this surge is, simply, the unvaccinated patients,” he said. “Nothing is more important, from my perspective, than convincing our friends and neighbors to get vaccinated.”

As of Friday, 27 people were hospitalized for COVID-19. Twenty of those patients were unvaccinated, and no vaccinated patients were in the intensive care unit.

Science tells us COVID-19 vaccines are designed to minimize serious disease, hospitalization and death, and they are doing just that to a high degree — even against the delta variant.

The COVID-19 vaccines are provided free of charge, regardless of immigration status or insurance status, and can be accessed at your local clinic, pharmacy or other vaccination sites across Maui County for everyone 12 and older. Upcoming vaccination clinics include the following:

• St. Theresa Church, Kihei, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

• Arc of Maui, 140 N. Market St., Wailuku, from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 18.

• UH-Maui College in Kahului from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 25.

Maui County continues to have the lowest vaccination rate in the state at 57 percent. We can and must do better, for each other.

Mahalo.

* Alice L. Lee is the Chair of the Maui County Council. She holds the County Council seat for the Wailuku-Waihe’e-Waikapu residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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