Efforts underway to ramp up vaccinations for underserved populations in Hawaii

Community centers work to help underserved populations get COVID-19 vaccine

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Health is continuing to work toward pushing out the COVID-19 vaccine to Hawaii’s hardest hit communities, and in some instances, expanding it out to younger populations.

The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is vaccinating patients 65 and older while most of the state is focusing on kupuna 75 plus.

“It’s so important to get the vaccine to the communities that need it most of the people that need it most,” said Jacob Schafer, the director of infection control at the center. “Since the beginning of this pandemic a year ago, this has been one of the hardest hit communities. So we’ve been working with the Department of Health to expand who’s eligible for the vaccine for our patients to 65 plus.”

They are just one of the organizations that are also reaching out to the community for education on the vaccine.

Doctors and health officials said they find it difficult to reach the Pacific Islander populations.

“One of the things that folks may not realize is that in order to get the proper communication, there’s 23 different Micronesian languages,” said Dr. Neal Palafox, a professor at John A. Burns School of Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. “Because they’re culturally diverse language, there’s special issues to navigate to reach them through the vaccine communication.”

Health officials also point to hope in the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which could be good for remote populations.

“It’s a single dose vaccine and it doesn’t have the very severe cold requirements, so it makes it easier to handle,” said JABSOM’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum. “Hopefully it can be able to target that towards the more rural communities. Everyone’s been waiting for this one.”

The Kauai District Health Office is working with Hoola Lahui and Malama Pono to vaccinate homeless individuals.

They’re also distributing multi-lingual vaccine information material and doing outreach to populations who have limited English proficiency. The County of Kauai Agency on Elderly Affairs is helping kupuna with the online registration processes.

Hawaii County officials said they are working alongside a community partner, Community First, to reach the hard-to-capture demographic. They’re are also working with the County Office of Aging and Immigration Office to touch communities that are traditionally harder to reach.

Dr. Libby Char, Hawaii’s health director, addressed concerns about the rollout of the vaccine on Maui.

According to the latest data, Maui is behind other counties for vaccinating residents.

Char said part of the reason is because they are concentrating on hard-to-reach individuals in remote locations, and that naturally takes longer.

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