Lanai and Molokai residents as young as 16 will be able to get a COVID-19 shot later this month, state health officials confirmed Friday, as islands with smaller populations gain momentum in the vaccination campaign.

Hawaii remains in phase 1b of its vaccine rollout, which includes medical workers, people 75 and older and those who work in critical industries. Across the state, just 16% of the state’s population has received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Department of Health.

The state plans to lower the age of eligibility to 70 and older starting Monday, and local clinics will receive more doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received federal emergency use approval this week.

But Lanai, the smallest inhabited island in the state with a population of approximately 3,000, has seen faster progress.

One of the largest health centers on Lanai expects to have enough COVID-19 vaccine to cover the island’s population in the coming weeks. 

“It is expected that by next Monday, over 1,000 Lanai residents will have received at least their first vaccine shot,” officials with Lanai Community Health Center announced in a post published Thursday on its website. “By the end of the month, Lanai providers could conceivably vaccinate all residents who are interested.”

“Watch out for information in the next week or two about a free COVID-19 vaccination opportunity for all Lanai residents aged 16 years and above via drive-in clinic on March 27,” the announcement reads.

DOH Spokeswoman Janice Okubo confirmed that Molokai is planning to broaden its vaccine eligibility as well.

Approximately 2,318 people are eligible for shots on Lanai, and another 5,057 people are eligible for shots on Molokai, she said. The Department of Health and Healthcare Association of Hawaii said Friday a total of 1,700 doses have been allocated to Lanai and another 4,200 doses to Molokai.

“Both islands have limited health care resources, and there are high levels of social and community interaction among individuals on these islands,” the association’s president and CEO Hilton Raethel said in a emailed statement sent to Civil Beat. “Mass vaccination efforts on these islands will protect these communities, and allow us to then focus our resources on other communities across the state.”

Lanai and Molokai make up Maui County along with Maui island, home to approximately 118,000 people. As a whole, the county has administered at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 13% of its population, according to the health department.

“They should be given a little more autonomy as we are given more supply,” DOH’s Maui County district health officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said in an interview. The islands may receive vaccine dose shipments from both the state and clinical providers, he said.

Kauai Opts Back In To Safe Travels

In another sign of confidence in progress against the coronavirus, Gov. David Ige on Friday approved Kauai’s plan to lift some travel restrictions by rejoining the state’s pre-travel testing program that allows travelers to bypass a strict quarantine if they test negative.

The Garden Island had opted out of the Safe Travels program in December after an uptick in COVID-19 cases, which meant that nearly all arrivals had to undergo a 10-day quarantine with the exception of those who stayed at one of nine resorts in a so-called bubble program.

The move has proven difficult for local businesses dependent on tourism and the island’s Mayor Derek Kawakami agreed to change the rules as the number of coronavirus cases statewide has been dropping.

All travelers are required to take a COVID-19 test prior to arrival in order to skip the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.

Cluster Reports

While the overall number of cases has remained low in Hawaii, health officials remain concerned about cases of new and more infectious variants of the virus found in the islands.

The weekly cluster report from the Department of Health’s Disease Outbreak Control Division provided more details about the first cases of a highly contagious strain known as B.1.1.7., which originated in the United Kingdom.

Health investigators confirmed that six people in two separate households on Oahu had been infected with the strain even though they hadn’t traveled out of state, indicating the variant could be circulating in the community.

St. Ann School early learning class with students and the plastic barriers as protection during in person class.
A preschool on Oahu was able to successfully avoid transmission of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 in January, officials revealed this week, although they did not identify which school. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

However, in some good news, nobody who came in contact with the patients contracted the virus, including 38 teachers and classmates at a preschool who had been alerted about the exposure and quarantined for two weeks.

DOH Disease Investigation Branch Chief Emily Roberson said it was a testament to the effectiveness of prevention measures, including wearing masks, frequently washing hands and maintaining safe distances.

“This was encouraging because even if it is shown that B.1.1.7 is more transmissible, regardless of its transmissibility, this shows that the guidelines that we have put forth are so far showing to provide effective prevention,” Roberson told Civil Beat in an interview.

Overall, Hawaii has maintained a low testing positivity rate for several weeks, with only 1% of those tested this week confirmed to have a COVID-19 infection. That figure was 2.7% on Maui, where county officials recorded an average of 27 new cases daily this week.

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