Native Hawaiian deaths from COVID-19 spike over past week

HONOLULU — Health officials said 23 Native Hawaiians died from COVID-19 last week, accounting for 20% of all fatalities among Hawaii’s Indigenous people since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago.

Native Hawaiians made up 40% of all deaths in the state during the seven days through Friday, KITV reported. Hawaiians are one-fifth of the state’s population.

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“We’ve also seen a number of really, really tragic stories move very quickly throughout our community,” said Nā’ālehu Anthony, the director of COVID Pau, a collaborative of businesses and nonprofit organizations delivering public health messages during the pandemic. “And, you know, one death is too much. One person dying is too much when it’s preventable when you have the vaccine.”

COVID-19 vaccination rates among Native Hawaiians have lagged in comparison to the rest of the state. To counter this, Anthony has started a series of public service announcements on the importance of inoculating Native Hawaiians.

The advertisements also focus on the importance of testing, mask wearing and social distancing. Some of the ads that have resonated refer to past diseases that wiped out much of Hawaii’s native population in the 1800s.

“We’ve seen over 170,000 views and it’s started a robust conversation set that’s shifted some of the narrative that we’ve seen in how the COVID vaccine has been characterized in our community,” Anthony said.

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Anthony says getting out the facts to combat the misinformation about vaccines is especially important for younger Hawaiians who haven’t yet decided to get the shot.

“If we are to survive this pandemic, as our kupuna did in the past, then we really need to weigh out how we can do that and what’s important for us to move forward to be able to grow as a population and to be able to make sure that our kids and our grandkids live healthy lives,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for elder.

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