As Hawaii inches closer to herd immunity, medical expert stresses importance of vaccines

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 9:31 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is continuing to make progress in its vaccination efforts, inching closer to herd immunity.

CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus said in an interview on Hawaii News Now Sunrise on Tuesday that Hawaii is doing a great job at getting people vaccinated and believes herd immunity is within arm’s reach, but it’s up to individuals to encourage others to get vaccinated.

“I do think it’s attainable and I think we have to do that, it’s not an option,” Agus said. “We have to protect each other.”

He added that there may be a good number of people who are immunocompromised, have cancer treatments or cannot respond to the vaccine, which is why we need to protect them through herd immunity.

Recent data from the state Department of Health shows that 56% of Hawaii’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

By age, 90% of adults 75 and older have received at least one dose; 91% for those 65 to 74; 73% among those 50 to 64; and 60% for residents 40 to 49. But the number drops to 48% among those 30 to 39 years old and 40% for those 18 to 29 years old.

When it comes to Hawaii’s youngest age group, about 13% have received their first shot. But currently, Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one approved for kids as young as 12.

Agus said he believes approval to vaccinate those under 12 will happen by the end of the summer.

“I don’t want a child to get this virus,” he said. “What I know is the virus could have ramifications potentially for the lifetime of the child and I want to protect these children and vaccines we know are safe for children.”

Vaccinating children is also key to eventually achieving herd immunity. Health officials estimate that more than 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach that milestone.

Agus also said Hawaii should change its mask mandate.

Gov. David Ige decided to keep mask rules in place even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was safe for fully vaccinated people to go without masks both indoors and outdoors.

“I think you have to. I think you have to dangle a carrot in front of people, say if things continue this way, then here’s the milestone and we will do X, we will do Y and we will do Z,” Agus said. “Now, enabling people with vaccines to be able to do things in Hawaii without masks and others, I think is the next step and makes sense based on the data.”

Hawaii has also been seeing an overall improvement in daily COVID case counts, which have been trending lower.

On Monday, 34 cases were reported statewide — the lowest daily infection number since March. The statewide case average now stands at 58, down 32% since May 9.

The state has not seen a day of triple-digit cases for nearly two weeks.

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