Healthcare leaders discuss COVID variants, vaccines and booster shots in HNN town hall

The Frontline - The Pandemic: A Year With Coronavirus

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Am I eligible for the COVID vaccine? Will I need a booster shot? And should I be concerned about the COVID variants?

These are some of the questions Hawaii healthcare leaders answered Wednesday night in a town hall discussion to mark a year since the pandemic began.

Panelists included Dr. Jill Hoggard Green, CEO of Queen’s Health Systems; Dr. Will Scruggs, emergency physician at Adventist Health Castle; Dr. Michael Shea, chief medical director at Maui Health; and Ray Vara, CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health.

The conversation came as more Hawaii residents are becoming eligible for the COVID vaccine and restrictions are slowly easing.

While Hawaii’s vaccine rollout is sometimes criticized as being too slow, it’s getting praise nationally.

A new study revealed the state’s prudent process ― of slowly expanding eligibility ― is getting better results than more than 80% of the country. The data was collected by the Associated Press.

The main takeaway from the study: Faster isn’t always better.

With more residents getting vaccinated, residents are wondering whether additional booster shots will be needed in years to come.

More than 2,000 workers at Queen’s Medical Center are part of a years-long study aimed at answering that question.

“About 80% of us at Queen’s are vaccinated,” Green said. “We are on the six-month follow-up and they’re measuring our antibodies.”

She said that she has been vaccinated, and her recent check-in showed high levels of antibodies.

During the panel, health officials also said they hope to get as many people vaccinated as rapidly as possible as two variants of concern have been reported in the state.

Green said that the need for vaccination is necessary as studies show that these variants are more contagious.

“It’s very important to us that we get as many people vaccinated because we do believe the vaccine does help in reducing the intensity of the disease. So, the faster we can do that the better,” she said.

For those with questions regarding lingering effects from the virus, Shea said, “Everybody’s immune system is unique, so everybody is going to react to the virus differently. There are some folks that will have prolonged symptoms. It seems to be related to inflammation from the virus not from a specific actual virus itself.”

As vaccinations kick in, Vara said that the state should be able to broaden more social activities. He also said that he feels comfortable with air travel and has traveled himself.

“I support what the governor has approved at this point. I think it’s just one of those things where we need to continue to be cautious. We need to watch and see the impacts of the loosening of restrictions,” Vara said.

Although health officials are hopeful, they said the most effective way of stopping the spread of the virus is the same: wear masks, social distance, keep good hand hygiene and keep surfaces clean.

Health officials said besides those health and safety practices, vaccination is essential in fighting the spread of the virus.

“I would definitely recommend getting the vaccine. I believe it is one of the strongest ways that we can fight this battle,” Green said.

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