Hawaii is one step closer to relief from the COVID-19 virus. State officials said the state will receive 81,000 thousand doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the month of December.
The first shipment of about 4,800 vaccine doses will come to the islands from Pfizer as early as next week, following final FDA authorization.
Governor David Ige explained that the state department of health is ready to start vaccine distribution as soon as possible-- as the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses 21 days apart.
“Over the past few weeks with very limited information from federal authorities, the department has been fine tuning our state's vaccine plan and working with our counties, public and private health care providers and other stakeholders to prepare for receiving the first shipments of vaccine,” Ige said.
The state can begin vaccinating those in phase one such as essential healthcare workers as soon as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance on immunization practices, which is expected in the coming days.
While those workers are the top priority in phase one, other essential workers and those over 65-years-old will be next in line.
One issue with the Pfizer vaccine is temperature--it needs to be kept at a very cold negative 94 degrees fahrenheit.
However Ron Balajadia, The Health Immunization Branch Chief at DOH assured the public that it would not be a problem-- even in more rural areas like Molokai and Lanai.
“We do understand that some of the neighbor islands don't have full capacity of ultra cold, but some of them are working towards getting it,” he said.
“The majority of them can actually utilize that shipper as that cold storage capacity. And we are working with each of the different facilities to ensure that they fully understand how to operate and utilize the dry ice to be able to continue and make sure that the vaccine is viable.”
Health Director Libby Char estimated that it will take 70% of residents to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. That means although vaccinations are starting, it will still be important to wear a mask.
She noted that the state is already working on communicating with the public to encourage people to get vaccinated.
“What we're really trying to do is get the word out about the science and we know the safety is there. It's being very, very strictly reviewed by many, many committees at the federal level, a lot of our partners and other states are doing independent reviews,” she said.
“It's really about getting the science out there. And then talking to people who've actually had the vaccine.”
Late stage clinical trials of the Pfizer vaccine have shown that it is 95% effective. The state is also awaiting federal emergency use authorization for Moderna which could happen next week.
After phase 1, groups like teachers will be able to receive the vaccine.
Char expected distribution to the general public to be in full swing by the middle of next year.
In the meantime officials, including Ige, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green and Char all agreed that they would be receiving the vaccine when it was their turn.