Hawaii could get first round of COVID vaccines in several weeks

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii health officials are hopeful the first round of COVID-19 vaccines could be distributed before the end of 2020. There are two vaccine candidates, one by Pfizer and the other by Moderna.

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Pfizer submitted its application to the Federal Drug Administration on Nov. 20 for emergency use authorization. The vaccine is 95% effective, and if approved, 44,000 Hawaii residents could get the vaccine before Christmas.

“We think by mid-December we can be vaccinating people,” explained Lt. Gov. Dr. Josh Green on Nov. 21. “It could even come more quickly; we’ve been instructed to be ready with just 24-hours’ notice if they get approved when one starts shipping drugs.”

Green said Hawaii could get more or less than the 44,000 doses, but state health leaders are already planning phase one.

“First, it’s going to be health workers and our kupuna, and first responders, then it’s going to be the next big group of people that have health issues, immune problems, and so on that are vulnerable,” Green explained.

He said hospitals will know how many vaccines to order for their most at-risk healthcare workers.

“That’s usually the first go around,” Green explained. “The next piece will be the mass vaccination where we will have lots and lots of outreach. We had 180 people on a call recently from a number of organizations; long term care facilities, hospitals, kupuna organizations, getting input from others that have large outreach to big groups, so that we can begin to corral people and offer the vaccine.”

He said after that, people who are low-risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms would be able to get the vaccine.

“There will be sites where people can go to get vaccinated, of course, that’s the likely approach that’s going to have to be kind of connected to some institutions if we use the Pfizer vaccine because it’s stored at a very low temperature,” Green explained.

He said they have reached out to community health centers that have data on people who would qualify for the vaccine.

Green said the Moderna vaccine could be better in Hawaii because it does not require as low of temperatures for storage.

Both vaccines require two shots taken three weeks apart.

“That’s another reason why having some kind of record, like a vaccine passport would benefit us because you’re going to have to take the same vaccine,” Green said. “The first shot from Pfizer has to come from the second shot from Pfizer, the first shot from Moderna would have to be matched with the second shot from Moderna.”

Green said he will recommend a ‘vaccine passport’ to the team, which would be able to show if someone received the vaccine or had COVID-19 and built immunity.

“That would make it easy for people who are vaccinated to just show that when they come into the state, also, it would be nice to have that for inter-island travel,” Green said. “So, there’s some benefits, it wouldn’t be mandatory, but it is a very useful thing to have.”

Green said mass vaccinations could take place by Spring 2021.

“We do need to get between 60% and 70% of our state immunized to begin to see herd immunity. Otherwise, we’re going to keep seeing spread,” he explained.

“By mid-fall we would hope to have everybody that wants to get vaccinated, vaccinated. And that will benefit many people.”

Green said there will be ongoing studies throughout the year to see if antibodies and the vaccine holds, or if an additional booster vaccine is needed.

“We’ll know that late in the Fall [2021], but I think for now, we’re hopeful that this will at least give us enough immunity to stop the epidemic. You know, if the numbers drop off very significantly, and we have herd immunity, we’re hopeful that COVID will then be kind of beaten down. So that in 2022, we’re not living this thing over again.”

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