It could cost Hawaii a minimum of $25 million to get people vaccinated to prevent COVID-19 — once a vaccine is approved by the federal government — state officials said Thursday.
Hawaii has received just $800,000 from the federal government — a fraction of what it will need to address the logistical challenges of shipping and storing a vaccine on chilly dry ice and distributing it within days to people on all islands before the vaccines expire.
As of Thursday, there was no COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use by federal government and health authorities. But Hawaii officials offered some highlights about how the state will distribute one when approved, including who will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine first.
The department of health has refused to release the full plan, which was submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.
“We feel people who are most vulnerable will likely be the ones who want the vaccine the most,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.
Even if a vaccine is approved in January, some Hawaii residents might not get inoculated until next spring because of how the vaccine will be rolled out.
Emergency responders and people who work at hospitals, nursing homes and home care settings will be the first, due to their risk of being exposed to bodily fluids or aerosols, according to the Hawaii Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccination Plan executive summary provided by DOH and Gov. David Ige.
The next priority group includes the elderly and people with serious health conditions that put them at greater risk for COVID-19 complications and death. The third group includes school teachers and staff, people who work and live at homeless shelters or correctional facilities.
Once those populations are offered a vaccine, then children and young adults up to 22 years old will be offered a shot.
According to federal sources, the “best estimate” is that an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine won’t be available for a few months, Ige said.
At least 60% to 70% of Hawaii’s population — about 700,000 to 800,000 people — would need to be vaccinated in order for the state to keep cases under control, Ige said.
“Once we reach this level of protection we can get more aggressive about reviving our economy, getting our keiki back to school and allowing more normal social interactions and behaviors,” he said.
Still, officials said people shouldn’t expect life to return to normal even after vaccines are approved. People will need to continue to wear face masks next year, Green said.
The state still needs to identify where it will properly store vaccines on all islands, said DOH Immunization Branch Chief Ronald Balajadia. Vaccines will likely require subzero temperatures and could only last for five days, he said.
“Some of our neighbor islands might not have that capacity so we’re trying to incorporate and make sure whatever we’re planning that neighbor islands are kept in mind and to ensure vaccines are not wasted,” he said.
Green — an emergency physician who contracted the COVID-19 virus and recovered in September — said he recognized some people are concerned about an expedited roll out, but said he planned to get vaccinated himself after a vaccine has been thoroughly vetted for safety by federal and state health authorities.
“Everyone has to make up their own mind about what their own risk is,” he said. “Having had COVID, you don’t want to get COVID. Take it from me.”
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