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In their own words: Hawaii health care providers address rise in cases, vaccine hesitancy

Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 4:59 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 16, 2021 at 5:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s case count and positivity rate are rising, and medical facilities are already feeling the impact.

Hospitalizations in Hawaii have more than doubled in the last two weeks.

On Friday, 147 new infections were reported. Officials say 3% of tests administered are now coming back positive. That’s up from 1% a month ago.

Meanwhile, the state’s vaccination rate stands at 59.1%.

Health experts say the vast majority of infections are among the unvaccinated.

As Hawaii faces the prospect of another surge in cases, HNN spoke to three healthcare experts to understand where the state is when it comes to COVID ― and where we’re headed.

ON THE RISE IN CASES

Dr. Tarquin Collis, chief of infectious diseases at Kaiser Permanente:

“I think there’s been a 60% increase in cases over the last two weeks here. Every single one of them, almost without exception, are unvaccinated folks who are catching COVID.”

Chad Shibuya, Infection Control Director Hilo Medical Center

“It’s super frustrating. The vaccine is widely available. Basically everyone 12 and over can get it. Even in our emergency department we’re seeing a fair number of teenagers, too, who are of vaccination age.”

Pediatrician Dr. Nadine Tenn Salle:

“What I am seeing that’s surprising me is the younger children getting infected. If we’re not vaccinated, we potentially become a vector for passing on the illness when we catch it. That’s what makes young children the vulnerable population right now because they’re not protected.”

ON CONTINUED VACCINE HESITANCY

Collis, of Kaiser Permanente, said COVID in the US is now a “preventable disease.”

“The rest of the world looks at the US with great envy right now. Only about 7% of the world’s population is vaccinated. We have this incredible gift of free vaccines that work remarkably well.”

Salle, the pediatrician, acknowledged that people have different concerns about the vaccine.

“This is where I need to be a patient advocate and a parent advocate. And understand where they’re coming from. Why are they confused? Is there a gap in knowledge? Is this fear?”

Collis also said he respects a person’s right to choose. But, he said:

“I think if people could get the chance to hang out with us in the hospital and see what happens to folks when they get this infection in a really bad way, I think they’d reevaluate.”

WHERE WE ARE NOW

No vaccine is perfect in terms of preventing infection. But, Collis said:

“The rate of breakthrough infections is really small.”

Shibuya also identified one big bright spot: Hawaii did a great job of getting kupuna vaccinated.

“The infection rate in our older population has and remains very low. Now really what I would call young people ― people in the 30 to 50 age group are coming to the hospital really sick, on ventilators.”

Collis added for many patients getting hospitalized is a wake-up call.

“They’re suddenly realizing wow. I didn’t have to be here.”

Shibuya said it’s not just the public who would like to be done with the virus.

“We want it to go away actually. We’d love to stop talking about it.”

Salle says the best thing to do if you have questions about the vaccine is talk to your doctor.

“In the end that’s the only way you’re going to get that one-on-one advice and get the best advice for your child and what would best suit your family.”

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