Craig Gima
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

As I write this, the state is starting to vaccinate küpuna 75 and older, along with frontline essential workers against COVID-19, and the federal government appears ready to release more vaccine and recommends that everyone 65 and older with pre-existing conditions move up on the priority list.

AARP Hawai‘i is getting a lot of calls from küpuna who want to get vaccinated and don’t know what’s going on. That’s understandable. The rollout is confusing and frustrating and likely to become even more frustrating. Many küpuna want the vaccine NOW. But even with more vaccine being released to states, there won’t be enough to vaccinate everyone immediately. Even if we are moved up the priority list, most küpuna will not get the vaccine for several more weeks and even months.

Here’s what we know and what everyone should remember:

• Everyone who wants a vaccine will eventually get a vaccine. The key word is eventually. Right now, there isn’t enough vaccine so that everyone who wants to can get vaccinated tomorrow. The process will take weeks and months, even for those in priority groups.

• Be patient and flexible. Vaccinating up to 330 million Americans is the largest public health project ever. It is unlikely to be a perfect rollout. But as more vaccines are approved and manufacturing and supply chains sort themselves out, vaccinations should become routine and widely available. That should happen this summer. But it could be sooner … or later.

• Check with your physician if you have questions or concerns about taking the vaccine.

• Beware of vaccine fraud. Fraudsters follow the news and know that people are anxious to get the vaccine. It’s a perfect opportunity for scammers to prey on emotion and scarcity. Anyone who asks for money for vaccinations is likely a scammer. The vaccine is free. Your insurance will pay for it, and even the uninsured will be able to get the vaccine at no cost. Be suspicious of unsolicited calls, emails or text messages and do not provide personal or insurance information unless you know who you are talking to. Do not click on links. Hang up and call back after looking up and confirming the number of the agency calling you.

The state has set up phone numbers and a website that should have the latest information. Call 2-1-1 or (808) 586-8332 or go to AARP Hawai‘i has also organized a Telephone Town Hall with Lt. Gov. Josh Green and acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kimble for Saturday, Jan. 30 at 9 a.m. (See accompanying sidebar for more information).

Let’s look at the numbers. According to the state’s Jan. 8 vaccination plan, there are 69,000 frontline healthcare personnel and long-term care residents and workers in groups to be vaccinated in Phase 1a – the first people to get the vaccine. The state is still giving shots to these groups. The next priority groups – people 75 and older and essential frontline workers – are also large. There are about 103,000 75+ residents and 126,000 essential frontline workers in groups to be vaccinated in Phase 1b. If the state widens the priority group to people 65+ (115,000) and people with pre-existing conditions (344,000) – about 750,000 people will be eligible for vaccinations in Phase 1c. And everyone in each phase will need two shots.

The volume of vaccines released to the state is currently about 20,000 to 30,000 doses a week. You can do the math. Even with an increase in supply, it will take a while before everyone prioritized gets the double dose of vaccine needed to get protection.

It may seem daunting. But more vaccine is on the way. AstraZeneca’s vaccine should be up for emergency FDA approval soon, along with Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine. The federal government is still hoping that supply will catch up to demand sometime this summer.

The vaccine is being distributed in Hawai‘i through PODs, or Points of Distribution. Each POD will likely have its own appointment system and as more vaccine becomes available, there will be more PODs. For example, Kaiser is making plans to notify and vaccinate all of its members who want the shot.

If you get your medical care through the Veterans Administration, the VA will notify you when you can come in and get vaccinated. The military and VA supply of vaccine is separate from the state’s allocation.

With so many people wanting the vaccine, it will be difficult to get an appointment in the first few weeks that should be available to küpuna. It’ll be easier to get a vaccine appointment next month or into March as supplies increase, demand lessens and the kinks are worked out of the initial vaccine rollout.

In the meantime, be wary of scammers who might try and take advantage of the confusion around the vaccine. Don’t pay anyone to move up the priority list and be careful about who you give your personal and insurance information to.

The bottom line here is that AARP supports making küpuna 50 and older a priority to get the vaccine. Most of the COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are in this group. But we have to manage expectations. We urge patience and transparency. Let’s get the word out about the state’s plan to vaccinate küpuna, what the limitations are and when people can realistically expect to get vaccinated.


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