Coronavirus variants rise as vaccine urgency remains low

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — In four months, Hawaii has gone from one COVID-19 variant case to 555.

In just two weeks, the state counted an additional 209 variant cases.

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As more mutations of the virus develop, the urgency for people to get vaccination grows.

The California (B.1.429/B.1.427) variant continues to dominate the statewide total, making up the majority of cases on Maui (207) and infecting a household on Kauai with five cases.

The UK (B.1.1.7) variant has accounted for 86 cases, while the South African (B.1.351) variant case count remains at eight.

The highly contagious P.1 variant out of Brazil was also identified in the state for the first time in April, accounting for seven cases.

“Some of the variants seem to be more contagious and others seem to not allow our medications to work as well. The monoclonal antibodies are not as effective against them,” explained Internal Medicine Doctor Toni Brayer.

To date, the state has sampled 1,687 cases believed to have a mutation but it’s unknown how many are circulating statewide.

“We do know, however, that our immunization, our vaccines, are effective against the variants,” Dr. Brayer said.

Scientists are now looking at a new variant of concern out of India, where less than 2% of the country has been vaccinated. India went from 12,000 new daily cases on March 1, to about 350,000 daily cases on April 24, a 3,000% increase in cases.

“They’re thinking that this second wave is really a waning immunity and now, almost new infections on top of old infections,” Dr. Brayer said. “So, I guess the take home message there is we shouldn’t let our guard down. We still need to see that this is really serious and get more people vaccinated.”

The so called ‘double-mutant variant’ out of India has been detected in California.

Here in Hawaii, Lt. Governor Dr. Josh Green said about 38% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

“The key is if you have herd immunity, so that the virus can’t take hold, you don’t end up seeing your society get a surge. We can take responsibility for small numbers of cases, we can handle them, obviously in the hospital, but being fully vaccinated as a state, which is to say, getting somewhere of 75-to-80% of our state vaccinated, that’s really the win,” he said.

The lieutenant governor said appointments going unfilled doesn’t necessarily mean there is vaccine hesitancy, but lack of urgency and believes opening to walk-ins will help get more shots in arms.

“I hope that everyone starts accepting walk-ins soon, because a lot of people are out there and they just don’t want to be troubled with the bureaucracy, but they’re excited to go and get the vaccine,” Dr. Green said. “I think that could be good for 400 or 500,000 shots by doing that.”

KHON2 asked the lieutenant governor what he thought was the best way to get the urgent message out to people who might be on the fence about getting vaccinated.

“In many ways, it’s door to door. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends, talk to your rotary club, legislators talk to your residents at town hall meetings. At the end of the day two or three out of 10 people may not be vaccinated and that can make a big difference as to Hawaii’s future,” he said.

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