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Vaccines for Healthcare Workers Expected Soon on Molokai

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

A limited number of COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers are expected on Molokai this month, according to health officials.

“We are expecting Molokai General Hospital to get its first delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines early next week,” said state Dept. of Health spokesperson Brooks Baehr last Thursday. “I do not yet know exactly how many doses will be included in that shipment. These vaccines will be for healthcare workers on Molokai.”

Molokai General Hospital President Janice Kalanihuia confirmed she is expecting the shipment.

“We’re all set to immunize anyone here [hospital staff] that wants it,” said Kalanihuia last Thursday. “We have the forms and workflow ready… we know how to give it, we know how to dilute it, we know what to look for before giving the immunization… we’re just waiting for the call.”

Statewide, the first shipment of 975 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was received by Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu on Dec. 15, with 3,900 more doses arriving the following day.

Nearly 45,000 additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive in Hawaii by the end of the month. Pending approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as many as 36,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are also anticipated for the state this month. Health care workers at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first to receive the vaccine.

Kalanihuia said whenever the vaccines arrives on Molokai, Molokai General Hospital will be administering it in a tiered schedule on a voluntary basis to staff who want it. The vaccine must be kept at extremely cool temperatures and can only be stored in a refrigerator for up to five days.

“It’s such a huge undertaking [distributing the vaccine] and then to get it to someplace like Molokai is another big step,” said Kalanihuia. “We’re being really chill about it. We’re used to giving immunizations so when it comes we’ll just do what we do.”

While Molokai General is slated to receive an unknown number of vaccines, if or when other healthcare organizations on Molokai may also receive the vaccine is still unclear.

Helen Kekalia Wescoatt, CEO of the Molokai Community Health Center, said she has been given very limited information by the DOH.

“I can confirm MCHC is a partner in vaccination efforts and offering the vaccine to our staff when it is ready,” she said Thursday. “Unfortunately, I do not have any other firm details per DOH vaccination planning efforts at this time; I am receiving little updates each day.”

Baehr said he was not aware of any vaccines slated for MCHC specifically.

“The hospitals have agreed to work as hubs where other healthcare workers from their community will go to be vaccinated,” he said. “This is happening in communities around the state.”

Kalanihuia said the vaccines the hospital will be receiving are being sent by Queen’s directly.

“Queen’s asked for enough vaccines for hospital workers on Molokai and they were granted that,” she said.

As far as community distribution of the vaccine, that’s still a long way off.

“Nobody has any idea how the community immunization will go,” said Kalanihuia. “I would say that the general community probably won’t have it available to them until the spring.”

As more vaccines are scheduled to arrive in Hawaii, health officials have said it marks a critical step in COVID-19 recovery.

“These vaccines will be tremendously important to our recovery. Their delivery is significant and our partnerships with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, hospitals statewide, and the counties have cleared the way for efficient distribution of these first shipments and future supplies of vaccine,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “This collaboration and community support is the key to administering the vaccines safely and effectively. People at high risk of infection are at the front of the line. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through that line as quickly and securely as possible.”

As families gear up for holiday festivities, healthcare officials urge keeping up with safety precautions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

“We’re coming into a crucial time, with Christmas and kids home from school,” said Kalanihuia.  I think this will be the test [if we can follow social distancing protocols].”

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii has launched a “Spread joy, not COVID-19” campaign to remind people of the importance of safe celebrations, and to gather virtually or in small outdoor groups only.

“Please encourage everyone to keep their gatherings small over the holidays, and to practice COVID safety measures such as masking up, social distancing, and not sharing utensils,” stated the Association.

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