Kupuna vaccinations to begin: West Hawaii hospitals set to launch clinics

  • Kenzo Nakamura administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in January at Hilo Medical Center. Kona Community Hospital will expand vaccinations to community members over age 75 starting next week. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Penny Cracas, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine before administering it to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa. Kona Community Hospital will expand vaccinations to community members over age 75 starting next week. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

  • Kona Community Hospital. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

  • Kona Community Hospital will expand vaccinations to community members over age 75 starting next week. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Kona Community Hospital will expand vaccinations to community members age 75 and over starting next week.

The facility said it is moving to Tier 1B in alignment with the state Department of Health’s vaccine distribution plan and will begin registering kupuna age 75 and over on Tuesday to receive the first of two doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

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People in that age group can begin the scheduling process by calling Kona Community Hospital’s registration line at (808) 322-4451 between 8 a.m. and noon starting Tuesday. The line will be manned by a hospital employee Monday through Friday who will register callers into the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System, and then schedule an appointment.

Additionally, a dedicated email address will go live Tuesday for questions. Community members with questions can email KCHCovidVaccine@hhsc.org.

Vaccinations will begin Thursday with the first kupuna receiving their shot between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Starting Feb. 6, the facility will offer kupuna vaccinations from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on both Thursdays and Saturdays.

“Our hospital team has been working closely with our partners at the State Department of Health and the Hawaii District Office for State DOH in preparing to open our clinic to seniors in the Tier 1B group,” said Lisa Downing, RN, Infection Prevention and Employee Health Director. “We appreciate our community’s patience as we establish and move into the next phase of our vaccine clinic.”

Downing said the clinic will be can handle up to 200 people per day, “if it’s scheduled and controlled.”

“We’re going to do it until it’s done,” she said when asked about projected turnout at the clinic. “It’s just the matter of who can get up here to the facility.”

The Department of Health will coordinate the vaccines for essential workers who are also in the Tier 1B vaccination group. That information will be provided by the state, the hospital said.

The West Hawaii Community Health Center will play a role in the broader community distribution, said CEO Richard Taaffe. The nonprofit health center is currently awaiting to be designated a “point-of-dispensing” by the CDC to begin vaccination efforts.

Once staff is trained and processes set up, the center will work to vaccinate its patients from all five of its sites. It will then work with the state, county and hospitals to reach out to the larger community and other vulnerable populations, he said.

“There’s a lot of planning going on but no definitive things at this point,” Taaffe said noting the community will be kept abreast of any updates.

Meanwhile, Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea is already scheduling vaccinations for those in the 1B phase, including those age 75 and older as well as essential workers.

According to the hospital, essential workers include first responders; correction officers; dispatchers; critical transportation infrastructure workers, such has harbor and dock workers; teachers, child care and education support staff; staff essential for federal, state and local government operations; and U.S. Postal Service employees.

Call the hospital at (808) 881-4668 to schedule an appointment. Appointments are available Monday through Friday.

The vaccination clinic is located in the annex building on the hospital campus.

Hilo Medical Center will begin offering vaccines to individuals 75 and older beginning Wednesday. People in that age group can begin the scheduling process by signing up on the hospital’s website, www.hilomedicalcenter.org. An individual email address is required.

Because some kupuna might have technical challenges signing up, Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which includes HMC, said starting Tuesday the hospital will offer a helpline people can call for assistance with registering. The helpline will be available during regular business hours by calling 932-3000 and pushing 8.

“The general consensus is the elderly population are taking the vaccine at higher rates than the younger (population), mainly I think because of their increased risk,” Brinkman said.

On Jan. 25, HMC will open vaccinations up to essential workers in the state’s Phase 1B prioritization category, along with individuals 65 and older.

“We anticipate a lot of interest, but you know, we think it’s the right thing to do,” Brinkman said.

The state’s vaccination plan prioritizes distribution of the vaccine into two phases.

The first phase has three components. Phase 1A includes health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, while Phase 1B includes frontline essential workers and adults age 75 and over.

Adults 65-74, people 16-64 with high risk medical conditions, and essential workers not included in 1B can be vaccinated in Phase 1C.

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Phase 2 will cover the rest of the population, which includes everyone 16 and older not included in previous categories.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter Stephanie Salmons contributed to this report.

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