Hawaii’s mass vaccination effort set to begin, marking a turning point in the pandemic

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Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 at 6:55 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s mass vaccination effort is set to begin Tuesday, marking a turning point in the fight against COVID-19 in the islands.

The first shots will be administered to health care workers at the Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, particularly those who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients, officials said.

The hospital received the state’s first shipment of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine just before 8 a.m. Monday. It came inside a thermo-insulated container packed in dry ice.

A hospital pharmacy team inspected the 975 doses before placing it in a special freezer where it’ll be stored at negative 70 degrees.

The lieutenant governor called this moment a turning point in the fight against a virus that’s already claimed the lives of more than 300,000 Americans.

“This will begin to end the pandemic,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said. “And it’s extraordinary to see it happening before our eyes.”

Monday’s vaccine shipment was accompanied by all the supplies needed to administer the shot — and more doses are on the way.

“By early next week we will have vaccines in every hospital across the state,” said Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

Raethel said the state’s slated to receive a total of 81,000 doses this month. That includes 25,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine pending its upcoming FDA approval.

Raethel said, “So, there should be enough doses to get through all the health care workers in the state no matter where they work.”

Although the vaccine is encouraged, hospital officials say no one will be forced to get the shot.

“We are hopeful they can see that it’s safe. It’s effective,” said Queen’s Medical Center President Jason Chang.

While Monday’s shipment offers a glimmer of hope, health care officials say it’s no time to let your guard down.

“We have to remain vigilant right now,” said Queen’s Health Systems CEO Jill Hoggard Green.

Chang added, “We still have to physical distance. We still have to wash our hands. We still have to wear our masks.”

State officials are waiting to learn how many doses of the vaccine will arrive in Hawaii in January and February, making it difficult to predict exactly when people with pre-existing conditions — and down the road the general public — will be able to get immunized.

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