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Molokai Nears General Public Vaccine Phase

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Molokai is poised to potentially have its entire eligible population vaccinated, but healthcare providers say they’re waiting for the green light from the Dept. of Health to move forward with vaccinating.

“We’re waiting for confirmation from DOH that we can begin to inoculate everyone on Molokai,” said Janice Kalanihuia, president of Molokai General Hospital (MGH). “There will probably be ad-equate doses here in the next couple of weeks to do that.”

In a March 10 press conference, Josiah Nishita Maui County Deputy Managing Director said vaccine eligibility on Lanai and Molokai will open to residents as young as 16 later this month.

“Their small island population has helped make this possible, as well as their severely limited health care resources on those islands so we want to make sure those individuals are taken care of,” he said.

State officials echo the incentive to get a large percentage of Molokai and Lanai populations vaccinated, and MGH and MCHC are poised to administer a high volume of doses. But Molokai is already ahead of the statewide schedule for vaccination phases, and Kalanihuia said with the rest of Hawaii just opening up vaccines to those 65 and older this week, she needs to wait for the DOH’s blessing to vaccinate Molokai’s general population.

The DOH did not return requests for comment in time to print on when leadership would give that go-ahead.

DOH spokespeople previously confirmed Molokai has just over 5,000 people eligible to receive vaccinations, aged 16 and older. Kalanihuia estimates about 2,000 Molokai residents have al-ready been vaccinated, based on the number of vaccines administered by MGH, Molokai Com-munity Health Center and the Molokai DOH office. That leaves around 3,000 eligible residents left to be vaccinated.

In January, MGH administered more than 1000 vaccines, moving ahead of the state schedule by offering the vaccine to all those age 65 and older at that time.

The challenge Kalanhuia said she’s facing now is not knowing how many of the remaining unvaccinated residents actually want to get the shot.

“We knew the 65 and older [age group] would come in droves but will 25 to 30-somethings want it?” she wondered. “We don’t know what the appetite is — who’s going to want to get it?”

She said the hospital may have another large batch of doses available as soon as this week, but if Molokai residents aren’t going to want them, she doesn’t want to short other areas of the state where seniors are still trying to get vaccinated. She said there’s no easy way to gauge interest, other than a community poll, or just opening up clinics and seeing who shows up.

Meanwhile, Helen Kekalia Wescoatt, CEO of Molokai Community Health Center, said her clinic is expecting 1,000 doses by the end of the month.

“MCHC is poised to expand the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine to the Molokai community in the coming weeks after what has been a sporadic and at times, chaotic, national rollout of the vaccine,” she said. “We’re certainly very excited about the federal government expanding this opportunity that will overall increase the state’s vaccine supply, ensuring that small, rural and of-ten times overlooked communities such as ours, will not be left behind and left vulnerable to a potential outbreak.”

MCHC is one of 12 health centers across the state that has been selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine program aimed to provide more vaccines to underserved areas, according to Sen. Brian Schatz’s office. The vac-cine allocation provided for this program is separate from the state’s weekly allocations.

Wescoatt said currently, patients falling into the 1a through 1c phases have been eligible to get the vaccine at MCHC since February and the clinic has vaccinated 300 patients who are now get-ting their second doses. However, she expects that number will drastically increase soon.

“MCHC is anticipating 1,000 more doses to be received by the end of March where it will be made available to all Molokai residents,” Wescoatt confirmed Saturday.

“We live in an island state where logistical hurdles to access anything – from the vaccine to our friends and family members, abounds — this time has not been easy for many people and we want to make sure that they have that same equity and protection as urban areas, so we can all get our lives back, as quickly and safely as possible,” she added, via email.

Kalanihuia and other Molokai health officials said they continue to experience chaos and lack of communication on the state level with vaccine rollout. Kalanihuia said she’s been working in healthcare about 50 years and “I’ve never seen anything like this. There’s no way to figure out who’s doing what.”

But despite the confusion, Molokai, along with Lanai, still have the potential to become the first islands in the state to be close to fully vaccinated.


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