State struggles to vaccinate the Pacific Islander communities hardest hit by COVID-19

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Updated: Feb. 2, 2021 at 5:32 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pacific Islanders who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine are struggling to get access to it, even though the group has been the hardest hit by the virus.

The group ― made up of Micronesians, Samoans and Tongans ― has the highest percentage of coronavirus infections in Hawaii and the highest percentage of deaths associated with the virus.

“We’ve seen the devastation of COVID in our community,” said Josie Howard, program director of We Are Oceania.

“We do not want to miss the chance of getting our loved ones vaccinated if they do wish to get vaccinated.”

Howard said kupuna in the Pacific Islander community can’t access the large sites that have been assembled at Pier 2 and the Blaisdell Center in Honolulu because many of them don’t have computers and don’t speak English, making it difficult to make appointments.

COVID-19 Cases broken down by race
COVID-19 Cases broken down by race(None)

University of Hawaii epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller said targeted vaccination is needed for those groups, similar to coronavirus test locations that popped up in cluster areas.

He acknowledged, however, that’s not easy.

Howard said church leaders, community centers and the Health Department are working on a plan.

“To bring it out to the church level,” Howard said, adding smaller vaccination centers in church parking lots could help with access.

Christopher Johnson, state Department of Health program specialist, said they are also depending on federally-qualified heath centers to reach those they cannot.

“They’re going to be the key boots on the ground partners in terms of, they know the aunty that lives on the end of the road that doesn’t have internet access and they know to knock on the door.”

Howard hopes the plan will go into motion soon as her community is still seeing COVID’s toll.

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