HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s been a year since a team of health care providers from Hawaii touched down in Samoa to help administer 37,000 measles vaccines in just 48 hours.
At the time, the country was in the grip of a deadly outbreak that killed dozens of children.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green spearheaded that medical mission. He and other doctors on the trip say the significance of that experience isn’t lost on them as the state prepares to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of Hawaii residents for COVID-19.
“It feels like fate challenged us to step up in Samoa. And now with that experience we’re able to know what some of the challenges are,” Green said.
Green acknowledged the mass vaccination effort ahead will be filled with obstacles, but says what that mission in Samoa taught him is that it can be done.
“We estimate we are going to vaccinate about 70% of (the people in) our state at least, which is probably 850,000 people so it’s a bigger lift. It will take months.”
He expects phase one to begin before the end of the year.
“Everyone should expect this first phase to mostly be done at the hospitals. That’s for our health care providers and kupuna in institutions,” Green said.
“But then come February, March when we can open up vaccinations to everyone who’s higher risk. That’s when we’re going to have to set up larger sites to vaccinate people.”
The lieutenant governor told HNN each county has identified multiple vaccination sites but they aren’t yet ready to announce where they’ll be.
He added that when the time comes Hawaii’s Health Corps will once again be called on to volunteer.
“It will be all hands on deck,” said Green. “People will have to come get vaccinated and then rest for a half hour. Make sure they don’t have any side effects. And they’ll leave. So the sites have to be a little bigger than you would think.”
Three weeks after your first vaccine, doctors say you’ll need to come back for a booster shot.
“We are going to need a lot of things in place to do this effectively,” said Dr. Nadine Tenn Salle, who also volunteered for last year’s medical mission. She says one of her biggest takeaways from Samoa is that this kind of endeavor requires more than just a plan and resources.
“You need to have a way of integrating into the community in a very culturally sensitive and effective manner,” Salle said. “Otherwise it will fail.”
Green said the final phase of the COVID-19 vaccination effort will focus on people in good health and children. That likely won’t happen until late next summer.