COVID-19 vaccine ‘mega clinics’ to open in Kona

  • The first doses of the COVID vaccine were administered in December at Kona Community Hospital. Kona Community Hospital and other entities will begin operating "mega clinics" in the coming days to increase the number of people being vaccinated in West Hawaii. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

The rate at which the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered in West Hawaii should pick up pace thanks to a partnership that will bring “mega clinics” to Kailua-Kona.

Later this week, closed COVID-19 vaccination PODs, or points of dispensing, will be operated at Kekuaokalani Gymnasium and the Kona Community Aquatic Center providing the ability to inoculate up to 800 people per day. Kona Community Hospital, West Hawaii Community Health Center and the Department of Health will each manage a different day with support from Hawaii County and the Hawaii National Guard.

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“This is going to be a huge deal,” said Kona Community Hospital Spokeswoman Judy Donovan, noting the Kealakekua facility administered on a single day last week 228 doses of the vaccine, maxing out capacity for the venue located at the top of narrow Haukapila Street.

The “mega clinics” will not be open to the public, meaning people can’t just walk up and receive a shot. Instead, people will be inoculated via appointment made with one of the entities.

Those currently eligible to be vaccinated are in the Phase 1B priority group, which includes seniors 75 and older and frontline essential workers, which include (but are not limited to) grocers, box stores, agriculture, essential farm workers, food manufacturing (not restaurants).

Only the Department of Health is currently administering the Moderna vaccine to all eligible persons in Phase 1B. Kona Community Hospital and West Hawaii Community Health Center are solely focusing on kupuna age 75 and older for now, offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, respectively.

“We are in the process of contacting employers of Tier 1B essential workers to obtain lists of employees in preparation for opening to these workers. This is a large population,” said Lisa Downing, KCH Infection Prevention Director. “At our next weekly Community First Vaccine Planning meeting, we will be discussing (as a group) a measured roll out of these individuals. We need to proceed with a measured approach for a couple of reasons: in order to not overwhelm the system or any of the vaccine pods in our county; and to ensure that our vaccine supply for this group will be adequate.”

The Department of Health will hold its clinic on Tuesdays, as it has done via drive-through since Dec. 24 when first responders and health care workers began getting the jab.

Kona Community Hospital will operate on Thursdays starting this week inside Kekuaokalani Gymnasium.

On March 5, the West Hawaii Community Health Center will open clinics on Fridays, also inside the gym.

Adults age 75 and older are eligible to schedule an appointment to receive the Moderna vaccine via the Department of Health by calling (808) 300-1120. Frontline essential workers will receive vaccinations coordinated through their employer or industry organizations. Organizations with frontline essential workers in Phase 1b should complete not more than one online survey available at www.hawaiicovid19.com/vaccine.

Kupuna 75 and greater can also contact Kona Community Hospital to register and set up an appointment. In addition to running the “mega clinic” on Thursdays, the hospital will continue to operate vaccination clinics at its facility in Kealakekua on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Any person who has had a prior reaction to a vaccine will get the shot at the hospital to ensure quick access to emergency care.

“KCH has added staff to the vaccine call center to help kupuna with the scheduling process. Call center staff are able to handle a larger volume of calls, and want to encourage kupuna who have not been vaccinated, or may have given up trying to call to reach out by calling the call center,” according to Donovan. The call center is at (808) 322-4451. Information can also be obtained via email to KCHCOVIDvaccine@hhsc.org.

Patients age 75 and older of the West Hawaii Community Health Center, which serves about 25% of the West Hawaii population via clinics from Kealakekua to Waikoloa, can request an appointment online at https://www.westhawaiichc.org/covid-19-vaccine-appointments or by calling (808) 334-2186. To receive a vaccine, a person must become a WHCHC patient first.

“We’re hoping we can get 6-7-800 people through a day,” said Dr. Richard Taaffe, CEO of West Hawaii Community Health Center.

Hawaii to date has been awarded 335,250 COVID-19 vaccine doses of which 315,900 had been received as of Wednesday, according to the state. Of the doses of Pfizer and Moderna received, 268,428 doses have been administered.

An estimated 12.5% of the population had received at least one dose, according to the state. Fifty-five percent of kupuna 75 and older have received at least one dose.

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

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

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