HONOLULU — Hawaii made its first test order of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday as cases surged throughout the country and the state remained on high alert for a potential third wave of infections.
The initial order of 4,875 vaccines is expected to arrive this month, pending approval of the vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Department spokesman Brooks Baehr.
“Of course, it’s just the first of what will be other orders that we expect to happen in the month of December. Once the green light is given, we can place additional orders we expect would arrive within 48-72 hours,” he said. “This is our test run. This will help us prepare for future deliveries. We just want to make sure that this stuff arrives intact, and when it gets here, we know exactly how to handle it. We want to make sure that none of this precious cargo is wasted once we kick into high gear.”
The FDA is scheduled to discuss Pfizer’s request for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.
The state’s vaccination plans will be released this week, he said. In an October draft plan, the DOH said it would need to build capacity to immunize about 121,000 residents in “critical populations” with two doses of the vaccine. Under that scenario the state would need 242,000 doses for 11% of the population age 18 and older.
Health Director Libby Char said the state expects to get some vaccines for the first group of high-risk residents—initially given to hospitals for front-line health care workers — by month’s end.
“That’s going to make a huge difference in the course of this pandemic. That way, they can continue to care for people through the pandemic who are ill and need care,” she said. “We’re hoping by mid-2021 to get our entire community vaccinated. It’s No. 1 on our priority right now.”
The state hopes to get as much as 60% to 70% of the population vaccinated in order to reach so-called herd immunity. The DOH expects most residents will be able to get a second shot of the vaccine in the latter half of next year.
“We’re all so anxious to get back to doing the things that are so important to us as a culture, ” Char said. “For now we keep our distance, wear our masks. We can’t give up yet. Vaccines are right around the corner. We just need to hang on a little bit more.”
On Saturday, the state announced Hawaii’s hospitals and health care systems, in close coordination with the Department of Health, are gearing up to ensure that they are prepared for the arrival and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“My colleagues across the state have put their lives on the line in order to care for Hawaii’s COVID-19 patients,” said Kelley Withy, MD, MS, PhD, Director, Hawaii/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center. “As a clinical trial participant, I feel confident in the vaccine safety protocols. They’ve given this vaccine to 43,000 people and nobody has had a serious side effect, only mild headaches and fatigue. I believe the Emergency Use Authorization of COVID-19 vaccines will be a huge step forward in preventing further infection, saving the lives of those most vulnerable to the virus and protecting our healthcare workers.”
According to the state, Withy received the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the extensive clinical trials that both pharmaceutical companies that are applying for FDA Emergency Use Authorization, Pfizer and Moderna, are conducting. She is also a member of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Emergency Support Function 8.
This past week, the Queen’s Medical Center coordinated acceptance of a mock shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The drill will allow Queen’s staff to prepare pharmacy and medical staff for acceptance and storage of the vaccine, upon authorization.
The shipping drill included a thermal container, which is how the vaccine will be shipped upon EUA approval. Further drills are expected in the coming days, the state said.
West Hawaii Today staff contributed to this report.