With more vaccine shipments en route, Hawaii health officials are expanding the pool of people eligible to receive a COVID-19 shot by including Hawaii residents ages 70 and older beginning Monday. That’s a week sooner then their original estimate of March 15.

Officials with the Hawaii Department of Health said Wednesday the move is partly due to an increase in vaccine shipments from the federal government as well as the federal emergency approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

On Wednesday Hawaii received the first shipment of 11,900 doses of vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines division, Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine requires a single dose, compared to the two doses required by the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. Courtesy: Department of Health

Those doses are included in what the state officials expect will be at least 67,000 doses sent by the federal government by the end of the week. That’s up from an average of about 40,000 doses sent to Hawaii weekly last month.

Officials are also considering broadening the eligibility pool to the 65-and-older age cohort thanks to the boost in supply, according to Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char.

“We will closely monitor how quickly vaccines are used and may open to people age 65 and up and those in phase 1c in a couple of weeks,” she said in a video announcement distributed to media outlets.

The state originally intended to include people 65 and older starting in March, but demand for the vaccine exceeded supply during the first few months of the rollout.

The first phase of Hawaii’s rollout — 1a — targeted long-term care residents and health care workers. The current phase, 1b, originally included only people 75 and older along with frontline essential workers, or those who must work within 6 feet of the public or their coworkers in industries deemed to be critical by the state.

The fact that people only need one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be a “game changer,” Char said.

The vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage, either. The vaccine was found to be 66% protective against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection and 85% effective in protecting against severe disease.

“That’s going to be really advantageous for some people, especially those who are trying to get immunity as fast as they can,” Char said.

Kristen Bonilla, Hawaii Pacific Health spokeswoman, told Civil Beat by email the health organization’s staff is ready to vaccinate more people at its Pier 2 Vaccination Center. The center has more than 1,300 appointments available this week, she said.

Representatives with Kaiser Permanente said hundreds of appointments are available this week, particularly at the Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center and Nanaikeola Clinic in Waianae. Another 1,000 appointment slots are available March 13 for a mass vaccination event at the Kaiser Mapunapuna Medical Office open to those eligible in the 1a and 1b vaccine phase categories.

Hawaii recorded two COVID-19 fatalities and 20 new infections Wednesday, including 11 on Maui, eight on Oahu, and one on Kauai. An average of 41 new cases were recorded daily during the past week.

Just 1% of people tested for COVID-19 statewide last week had positive COVID-19 results.

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