LIHU‘E — The rollout of a vaccine for COVID-19 inches closer, with a possible shipment to the state coming as early as next week.
Dr. Libby Char, director of the state Department of Health, said vaccination is the No. 1 priority, and believes a first phase rollout to high-risk health-care workers and those in long-term-care facilities could be wrapped by the end of February 2021.
Thursday, an advisory committee to the federal Food and Drug Administration voted in favor of recommending emergency-use authorization of the vaccine to Pfizer and BioNTech, with a similar recommendation expected for Moderna in the coming weeks.
By the end of the month, that could mean over 81,000 doses could be administered to priority groups in high-risk settings in Hawai‘i, according to state officials.
“Once the vaccine begins to arrive, we will receive a robust supply,” Char said Thursday.
Pfizer will pre-position the first shipment of 4,875 doses of vaccine in Hawai‘i, but the first shots can’t begin until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) provides guidance on who can be vaccinated.
If emergency-use authorization is granted to Moderna, the state is expected to receive 36,000 doses, which is in addition to 45,825 from Pfizer.
The first phase is broken into three groups. The first, 1A, includes essential health-care workers and the residents and staff of congregate long-term facilities, like those in assisted-living homes or correctional facilities.
The second group, 1B, includes essential workers including first responders and public-safety officials, while a third, 1C group will include adults 65 and up with high-risk medical conditions.
With ACIP approval, these phases could change, the state warned.
According to the state’s October COVID-19 draft vaccination plan, Kaua‘i has about 2,195 high-risk health workers. Numbers regarding first responders and those in the first phrase were marked “to be determined.”
Logistics of the vaccine
The Pfizer vaccine, found to be 95% effective against confirmed COVID-19 cases across demographics, must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower, and will be shipped in specially-designed, temperature-controlled containers using dry ice. Ultra-cold freezers are recommended for storage up to six months, but the vaccines can move to a refrigerator for up to five days. The second Pfizer dose is recommended at 21 days.
Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, said the state has contingency plans to ensure that each vile of the vaccine the state is getting is used.
The Moderna vaccine requires a second dose after 28 days. With a 94.1% efficacy rate, Moderna found that this rate was consistent across age, race, ethnicity and gender demographics.
Alongside the DOH, the Hawai‘i National Guard, the HAH and other medical providers will accept and dispense the first shipments of the vaccine. The federal government has partnered with CVS and Walgreens to provide vaccinations at long-term facilities.
“This pandemic has cost Hawai‘i residents so much: the lives of loved ones, our health and our economic security,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement Thursday.
“The recommendation by the FDA panel to approve the Pfizer vaccine is a vital step in keeping our situation from becoming worse and beginning our road to recovery. Once final approval is granted, I am confident in the Department of Health’s ability to distribute vaccines across Hawai‘i.”
The FDA isn’t expected to fully approve either vaccine for another three to seven months, Raethel said Thursday.
“While they’re under emergency use, there will not be any requirement by health-care organizations that we’re aware of to require the vaccine,” Raethel said when asked if vaccinations for nurses or those in the health-care industry would be required.
Dr. Kelley Withy, director of the Hawai‘i and Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center, was a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine clinical-trial participant.
Withy, like others in the trial, experienced slight pain at the injection site, as well as some fatigue. Other adverse effects reported across the vaccine trials include fever, headaches, chills and muscle aches. Mixing dosages is not recommended.
The state is aiming for a 70% immunization rate before normalcy might return. At 70%, Char said the likelihood of acquiring COVID-19 is much lower to one who isn’t vaccinated, if masks are continued to be used.
“We know that our work is just beginning,” Char said. “After months of planning, we are prepared to join with our partners to distribute the first shipments of a vaccine,” she said.
“As there will not be enough vaccine for everyone at first, we must first care for those who cared for us — essential health-care workers and kupuna in long-term care facilities.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.