Hawaii’s state health director said Thursday she is optimistic the Aloha State is on track to offer a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone by May, meeting a goal set by President Biden for the nation.
Starting Monday, clinics will accept vaccine appointments from people age 60 and older — marking a new expansion to the age-based eligibility pool.
Assuming the islands receive about 70,000 doses weekly and upcoming shipments will include the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Hawaii could meet the goal to offer the vaccine to everyone eligible by the end of April or early May, said Dr. Libby Char, the director of the Department of Health.
“I do think we’re on track to meet the president’s goal,” he said. “It might be a week or two later, but the vaccinations are going real well.”
Hawaii is currently in the first stages of phase 1c of the vaccine rollout, which includes almost 500,000 people — about half of the state’s population of people 16 and older.
The health department and clinics are prioritizing certain groups, including people 60 and older starting next week, as well as those with severe respiratory disease who are on oxygen or who require dialysis or are undergoing chemotherapy or other infusion therapy.
About 1.1 million Hawaii residents are 16 and older and approved to be vaccinated.
Vaccines for health workers, long-term care facilities and residential care homes, public transit workers, corrections officers, government workers, educators, grocery store and U.S. Postal Service employees are still underway.
The next eligible groups are workers in banking and finance, construction and retail industries, according to Char.
By Phase 2, all residents older than 16 will be eligible.
“We’ve been fairly methodical and I know we’ve been criticized a fair amount for it. I think we’re doing OK, though,” she said. “This is the approach we’ve chosen and it seems to be working fairly well for us. The pace is just going to start picking up faster and faster.”
As of Thursday, the state had delivered 568,000 doses and a federal retail pharmacy program has administered an estimated 120,000 doses. Char said the federally contracted retailers, such as CVS Longs and Safeway pharmacies, get a portion of doses from each allotment, but the health department is not privy to data about their distribution.
“It’s good because it’s vaccine in our state but it’s tough because it’s not vaccine that we can allocate,” Char said.
Essential workers make up a large portion of the current eligibility pool. Char said the health department has closed its online registration for companies and organizations that employ essential workers. Those companies are encouraged to schedule vaccines directly with providers.
The health department is working on opening more vaccine clinics across the islands, Char said, especially in rural areas.
Neighbor islands will likely complete their vaccine campaigns quickly because of their smaller populations, she said.
Due to the wide array of chronic illnesses and conditions that have been found to increase risk for COVID-19 complications, the state is standing by its decision to broaden eligibility by 5 or 10-year age increments, she said.
“Rather than listing different illnesses and saying — OK, if you have diabetes or sickle cell disease, or you got a solid organ transplant, you’re up now — instead it makes sense to open the invitation for appointments based on age and that should correlate pretty well with the underlying medical conditions,” she said.
Join us for a virtual conversation about the COVID-19 vaccine effort in Hawaii, featuring state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble:
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.