Third vaccine option will arrive in Hawaii soon

  • In this December file photo, Dr. Douglass Do receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from employee health nurse Roylynne Crivello at the Hilo Medical Center. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

More than 67,000 COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in Hawaii this week, including 11,900 doses of a newly approved inoculation from Johnson & Johnson.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Big Island physician, said during a livestream Monday that the state will receive 55,380 doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna this week, as well as the single-dose Johnson &Johnson vaccine, which was approved for emergency use Saturday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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The FDA said the single-dose Johnson &Johnson shot offers strong protection against serious illness, hospitalizations and death, the Associated Press reported.

In a massive study that spanned three continents, one dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness. Protection from the vaccine remained strong even in countries such as South Africa, where the variants of most concern are spreading.

In the U.S., the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots were 95% protective against symptomatic COVID-19. Johnson &Johnson’s one-dose effectiveness of 85% against severe COVID-19 dropped to 66% when moderate cases were rolled in, according to the AP report.

But there’s no apples-to-apples comparison because of differences in when and where each company conducted its studies, and the Pfizer and Moderna research was finished before variants began spreading.

Green said the Johnson &Johnson vaccine initially will be sent directly to the state Department of Health for distribution to its partners “until we get a good cadence on when they’re getting sent and how much we’re going to have.”

DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said the Johnson &Johnson vaccine will arrive in Hawaii in the coming days and all four counties will receive doses.

He did not know how many of doses initially will come to Hawaii Island.

“Emergency use authorization of the (Johnson &Johnson) vaccine will affect the state’s vaccination priorities in that it will provide us more vaccines, allowing us to provide vaccinations to additional populations sooner,” Baher said.

According to the DOH, the federal government is expected to ship an additional 10,380 doses directly to Longs Drugs this week as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Green said it always will be an individual’s choice as to which vaccine they receive.

As of Monday, 356,843 vaccine doses had been administered in Hawaii, and 14.4% of people in the state have received vaccines.

According to data from the DOH, 13.5% of Hawaii County’s population has received at least one dose.

“We’re moving forward really well,” Green said. “This is also reflected in our overall state numbers.”

The state had a 1.2% test positivity rate on Monday.

Green said there were only 630 active cases in the state, much lower than two months ago.

“We’re seeing a very good, overall response to the vaccine and to people’s excellent behavior as far as being careful,” he said.

The state expects to open vaccinations to those ages 70-74 around March 15, then to those 65-69 “fairly quickly” afterward, Green said.

Green said the effort to inoculate the 70-74 group will take two to three weeks, and shortly thereafter the state can begin vaccinating those 65-69. Those with lung diseases, cancer or on dialysis will be the next top priority.

There are only 146,000 individuals statewide between 65 and 74, he said.

“So, we’ll aggressively move through those numbers,” said Green. “I know it can’t come soon enough for people, but now it’s pretty soon. The good news has been we’ve seen a real drop in our hospital numbers over the last two months because of the effect of vaccinating our kupuna.”

Green said if someone wants a single shot and is comfortable with the amount of immunity the Johnson &Johnson vaccine provides, that inoculation is a good choice.

“I personally would expect younger people to trend that way and to tend to want the Johnson &Johnson shot because they are, in general, at lower risk.”

For those who are under 50 and healthy, “Johnson &Johnson is a perfect shot for you,” Green said. But if “you’re 71 and about to get it, I still would probably err on the side of getting Pfizer or Moderna because it does take you to 94.5% or better immunity.”

Statewide, 29 new virus cases were reported Monday in Hawaii.

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“There’s no doubt we’re seeing the vaccination effect now,” he said. “We saw this in a lot of different countries, including Israel, when they first started vaccinating their people. They saw a very steep decline once they reached some kind of critical threshold.

“There’s just a lot of immunity that you do get, even from the first (dose), and it makes it that much harder to spread the virus,” he continued. “But also people continue to wear masks at an over 90% rate, and that is a real godsend for our state. If we weren’t as good with mask-wearing, we would not see these numbers get this low.”

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