Younger Hawaii residents with pre-existing medical conditions that make them vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19 will likely have to wait another month before vaccines begin rolling out for them, and the same goes for residents in their mid to late 60s.

Instead, the next group in line after the current cohort will be people 70 to 75 years old, Hawaii Department of Health Director Libby Char told lawmakers during a virtual informational briefing on Monday. But, Char said, shots for the 70- to 75-year-old age group, which is technically a subset of what officials call Phase 1c, probably won’t begin to roll out until March 15.

“We’re not ready to hit 1c yet because that would be an influx of half a million people,” Char told Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole and Rep. Linda Ichiyama who presided over the briefing.

Pharmacist Davis Zheng gives a resident the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. January 5, 2021
A Hawaii resident is given a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Moderna. Vaccinations have fallen behind the previous pace but officials are hoping to speed things up again. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The health department has vaguely stated that the 1c phase would start in the spring, but precisely when has been unclear. Char’s remarks provide a measure of clarity: the next phase will begin in “three weeks or so,” she said, with the older subset of 1c going first, regardless of their health, while younger people with chronic diseases will have to wait.

Senate staff moderating the questions posed to Char declined to ask her for a more specific timeline for vaccinating the bulk of the 1c group. But it appears it could take weeks to give out even the first of the two-shot treatments to the 1c group.

New Case Count

Oahu has two large vaccination centers established by the House of Representatives, operated by Hawaii Pacific Health and Queen’s Health Systems. Located at Honolulu Harbor’s Pier 2 Passenger Terminal and the Blaisdell Concert Center, the facilities can administer as many as 10,000 shots per day.

In addition, Gov. David Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight webcast on Monday that Hawaii has an additional 100 smaller centers across the islands and is working with pharmacies to set up more.

Ige, his wife, cabinet members and staff received vaccinations on Monday, his office announced.

Char stressed Hawaii is “vaccinating the right people as quick as we can,” but she said there have been challenges, including shipping delays caused by winter storms on the U.S. continent.

A new shipment of some 70,000 vaccine doses is expected to help Hawaii make up lost ground this week, she said.

Char also addressed questions about altering the state’s testing program for travelers. The state now requires anyone traveling into the state to quarantine for 10 days; however, people can sidestep the quarantine by receiving a negative COVID-19 test before traveling. The program’s architect, Lt. Gov. Josh Green wants to amend the program to let people skip quarantine if they’ve been vaccinated.

Char on Monday said Green’s plan won’t happen any time soon. For one thing, scientists still don’t know if a vaccinated person can carry the virus and give it to someone else. In addition, she said, there’s the logistical challenge of how to validate whether travelers have gotten the vaccine.

Eventually, she said, Green’s idea of a vaccine passport may come to pass.

“We’re all excited that maybe that’s a possibility in the future,” Char said.

Ige, meanwhile, said Monday: “I do see us getting to the new normal before the end of the year.”

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