Vaccinating a village: 120 residents of the Miloliʻi Fishing Village receive one-shot vaccine

  • U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele addresses volunteers before the start of administering vaccinations in the Miloliʻi Fishing Village in South Kona. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • Erin Samura administers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Caroline Casuga at the pavilion of Miloliʻi Beach Park on Saturday morning. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

It takes a village.

When it comes to beating COVID, the Miloli‘i Fishing Village in South Kona took a big step forward on Saturday. Aided by partnerships from around the Big Island – including Bay Clinic, Community First, Pa‘a Pono Miloli‘i, Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi and the offices of U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele and Lt. Gov. Josh Green – the village has set the template for how to conduct a mass vaccination clinic in Hawaii’s most isolated communities.

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“It’s been a community effort where people have come together,” Kahele said. “Different organizations have pulled together to make this happen today. This has not happened anywhere else in the state prior to this, in a rural setting like this.”

More than 50 volunteers descended upon the pavilion at Miloli‘i Beach Park Saturday morning, successfully vaccinating 120 residents ages 18 and above with the single-dose Johnson &Johnson vaccine.

Though some residents showed hesitancy, the clinic was ultimately able to administer 80% of the vaccines brought along: a good sign of progress in a community that suffered from a large outbreak in September of last year.

“Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have suffered, especially those in rural, isolated communities,” Kahele said. “Miloli‘i is a multi-generational household community; you have keiki to kupuna living in one house… It was a serious issue down here.”

Bay Clinic CEO Kimo Alameda indicated this disproportionate effect COVID-19 has had on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities was a significant reason why Saturday’s clinic got approval to vaccinate all adults within the community, as opposed to the state’s general policy of only offering the vaccine to residents 65 and over.

“For this community, we did get the approval (to vaccinate everyone 18 and over) because of the vulnerabilities,” said Alameda. “This is equity. This is how you address health disparities.”

Alameda was also quick to spread credit around for the day’s success.

“I’ve got to do hats off to our COVID coordinator Erin Samura; she put it together,” he said. “The vaccine is a fragile substance. It has to be refrigerated, we need generators, we had to coordinate how to get the laptops connected, we had to figure out a way to get special Wi-Fi, and then making sure people come. We had to do a public campaign to get folks to feel comfortable taking the vaccine.”

The campaign ranged from sharing a video created by Green, to volunteers going door-to-door giving information on the vaccine. Incentives to get vaccinated included a free bento lunch and raffle giveaway with items donated by Tokunaga Store.

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While estimates to reach herd immunity vary, Saturday’s vaccination total puts the village of around 300 within striking distance of achieving it. The hope is that the small fishing village of Miloli‘i can serve as the example for the rest of Hawaii’s rural communities as vaccination efforts move forward.

“Miloli‘i is a perfect place for that,” said Kahele. “You have an isolated, highly concentrated community: about 50 homes, about 300 residents. To vaccinate the whole village is a great example.”

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