State epidemiologist says Hawaii is ‘close’ to reaching herd immunity

Published: May. 13, 2021 at 5:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state’s epidemiologist says Hawaii is getting close to herd immunity, but stressed that vaccinations must continue to actually achieve it.

The other problem: Defining herd immunity is tricky.

Herd immunity means there’s enough immunity in the community to slow or stop its spread. It’s been said that herd immunity could happen when 70% to 90% percent of the population is vaccinated.

But state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble says there is actually is no certain number.

“What does herd immunity actually mean? It has to do when we vaccinate enough people that we actually slow the virus down that we aren’t seeing sustained transmission,” said Kemble.

“It’s one of those frustrating questions when we’ll kind of know it when we get there, but I do believe we are getting close.”

The Johns Hopkins University vaccine tracker shows Hawaii at no. 6 in the nation for those fully vaccinated. So far, Hawaii has administered nearly 1.4 million shots, according to Hawaii health officials.

Meanwhile, roughly 41% of Hawaii’s population is fully vaccinated.

Clinicians are careful about the conversation because they want to avoid the explosion of COVID cases that were seen after large gatherings last year.

Could herd immunity be reached by this July Fourth?

“It could be. We always want to be cautious. We will follow the data,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who’s also an emergency room physician.

“We have to get to about 2 million doses in arms I believe to get to herd immunity,” he added.

Kauai has the highest vaccination rate among the counties with 61% of those 18 and older having at least one dose, according to the DOH website.

Even so, the island saw a recent spike in cases.

Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai district health officer, says most of the cases on the Garden Isle and statewide were among unvaccinated people.

“I would say that that cluster report a week ago, it will be updated today (Thursday) and we are seeing no further growth in any of those clusters in our community (Kauai),” she said.

Maui County District Health Officer Dr. Lorin Pang says Lanai is leading the way in Maui County ― with 73% having at least one dose and 61% fully vaccinated.

On Molokai, 53% have had one dose with 48% fully vaccinated.

“The faster you can get people vaccinated, the more the better so right now vaccine coverage Lanai is pretty good, then followed by Molokai, then followed by the rest of Maui,” he said.

Hilo Medical Center Chief Information Officer Kris Wilson says the Big Island is also making strides and is moving away from large vaccination sites to smaller clinics in communities.

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