Vaccine shortage hobbles Hawaii’s COVID-19 immunization effort

Top stories from across Hawaii and around the world, as seen on the 6 p.m. news broadcast from Hawaii News Now.
Updated: Jan. 25, 2021 at 4:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A shortage of the coronavirus vaccine is hobbling immunization efforts across the state.

Hawaii’s only expected to receive about 32,000 doses this week. Officials say that’s half of what clinics have the ability to administer.

It’s a problem that much of the country is dealing with. And right now it’s unclear exactly when supply of the vaccine could increase.

As demand for the coronavirus vaccine intensifies, officials heading up Hawaii’s immunization efforts are becoming increasingly frustrated.

“The reality is we don’t have enough to go around,” said Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

He said the state has received a little more than 203,000 doses of the vaccine. As of Monday morning, about 106,000 shots had been administered.

Health experts say it’s important to provide those who’ve gotten their first vaccine with the booster three weeks later. But a combination of not knowing how many doses will arrive each week and ensuring people get their second shot is creating a lot of unwanted lag time.

Raethel said, “If you don’t start getting more supply you have to stop giving first doses while you catch everyone up and give them their second doses.”

While slower than anticipated, progress is being made.

This week, CVS Health is expected to complete the first round of vaccinations for staff and kupuna at 45 long-term care facilities.

While the first dose gives some protection, doctors say two shots are needed for optimum immunity.

“If you hit the immune system once it sets up a reaction. You hit it again, it’s ready for that reaction,” said CVS Health executive Vice President Dr. Troy Brennan. “It’s a much stronger reaction the second time. And then we feel like we have it trained at that point.”

Raethel says with immunization initiatives underway on every island, Hawaii could easily double the number of people it’s currently vaccinating each week.

“We could do a lot more,” he said. “It’s so frustrating this shortage of vaccine because everyone is looking for more.”

Raethel says the hope is to finish vaccinating people in group 1B by the end of February. That includes people over the age of 75 and frontline essential workers.

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