Getting the second half of Hawaii’s inhabitants to take the COVID-19 vaccine is a problem

While Hawaiian residents once talked about who got the first dibs for the COVID-19 vaccine, nowadays the lines aren’t necessarily that long and the dates are wide open.

Having passed the 1 million vaccine doses milestone, Hawaii health officials are now faced with the challenge of injecting the second million necessary to achieve herd immunity – the point at which enough people are immune to prevent the spread of Virus is unlikely.

“We’re seeing a decline in buzz for the COVID vaccine,” said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. “A lot of the people who were really anxious to get it got the shot. We are currently at a transition point. (This) week is the first week since vaccines became available that we have sufficient supply to meet demand. This is not because the supply has increased significantly in the last few weeks, but because the demand is falling. “

Approximately 50% of the Hawaiian population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and nearly 40% have been fully vaccinated.

The task now is to reach those who are still on the fence to get vaccinated.

Among them are remaining Kupuna, who have been eligible for months but haven’t gotten around to receiving the vaccine, as well as younger teenagers and adults on the other end of the spectrum who aren’t worried enough about getting sick to receive the vaccine .

Then there are communities at risk, including those who don’t have easy access to the transportation or technology necessary for online vaccine appointments. There are also people who cannot afford to combine multiple jobs and family responsibilities to get to a vaccination clinic.

Ethnic groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic who still have low vaccination rates include Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Filipinos.

The state’s strategy now is to bring vaccination to these hard-to-reach populations, as was recently the case at a pop-up vaccination clinic in the Towers in Kuhio Park, a public housing project in Kalihi.

Bring vaccines into communities

To the music, hundreds of residents, from teenagers to Kupuna, played for free COVID-19 vaccinations near the towers in Kuhio Park on Thursday.

The clinic was organized by a Kalihi coalition of agencies and partners including the Hawaii Public Housing Authority and the nonprofit parents and children together.

Kaiser Permanente gave about 500 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine in a walk-through manner with no appointments required. Language interpreters were on site and could translate into Chuukese, Marshallese, Korean, Samoan and Ilocano.

The convenience brought Elina Kanaka’ole, a working mother of four children, to the clinic. She wanted to get vaccinated but didn’t have time to get to the centers of town, let alone bring all four children, while she juggled her work schedule.

“Basically, it’s a mix of everything for these people,” said Kaiser, nurse and public relations director, Kim Gibu. “There’s a language barrier, no internet, no laptops to log into online, or they just don’t know about it. You don’t understand. “

According to Gibu, whose team has also contacted Papakolea, the Philippine Community Center and Kau on the island of Hawaii, the clinics provide information for anyone who is curious and has a little “booty” as motivation.

On Thursday, the vaccinated were offered reusable water bottles, HOLO (bus) cards and giveaways for groceries on the way out.

Another clinic will be held in May to give residents and the surrounding community their second dose.

Remaining barriers

In a nationwide survey conducted in January, the health department found that 55% of respondents would likely take the COVID-19 vaccine immediately after approval, while another 36% preferred a wait and see approach.

Raethel said those numbers have improved since then, and more people interested in getting vaccinated after seeing friends, family and neighbors do so with no major side effects.

According to the federal government, only an estimated 10% of Hawaiian residents are reluctant to take the vaccine.

Health officials do not focus their resources on outspoken anti-Vaxxers, a small percentage of the population who oppose all vaccinations, as they are not expected to change their minds.

Part of the fight, however, will involve fighting the rumors spread by anti-vaxxers, including the fact that the vaccination spurt is a conspiracy to plant microchips in people, or that the vaccine can alter its own genetics.

There are some who have philosophical or religious reasons for not wanting the vaccine, as well as suspicion of the government in general and fears about long-term side effects.

To reach out to the younger group, the health department plans to work with schools to launch a social media campaign. To reach specific populations, the state works with community groups that have already established relationships.

Retired Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland, now program coordinator for the Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center, said an on-site clinic offering was well suited for Kupuna who have not yet been vaccinated.

Since February, Lanakila has been offering its members and their families several hundred vaccinations every Tuesday at the center in cooperation with the Kalihi-Palama Health Center.

“Some of the seniors just felt very comfortable at the center, and there was already an established, trusting relationship,” she said.

Some seniors who hesitated felt more comfortable being accompanied by a younger family member who brought the vaccine with them.

Gibu von Kaiser often said that filling out forms also intimidates people who are careful not to divulge their personal information, or who may not have a permanent address or are undocumented. The COVID-19 vaccines are free for everyone in the US, regardless of immigration status, with or without health insurance.

There is also fear of the unknown.

The vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are, as those resistant to point out, are given for emergency use under the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration and have not yet been fully approved.

What Gibu said she often shares is that there isn’t any long-term data on the vaccine, but it’s 94% to 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 and 100% effective in preventing serious illness.

“Really what you are doing is protecting your loved ones, your community,” she said. “You help keep your community safe.”

Herd immunity

The state health ministry states that there is no magic, negotiated number for the percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

However, a minimum of 2 million more doses are required if officials target 70% to 85% of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents.

Raethel said the general consensus is that the state must vaccinate 80% to 85% of the population, or 2.2 to 2.3 million doses in total, in order to achieve herd immunity based on the variants present in the state.

Approximately 310,000 children in Hawaii aged 15 years and younger are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“As more contagious variants spread, we probably need more vaccinated people than initially thought,” said DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr. “Our best strategy is to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Hawaii’s young adults will play an important role in whether and how quickly we achieve herd immunity. “

Most of the vaccines given in the state are Pfizer or Moderna vaccines with two shots that need to be counted twice, while only 10% of Johnson & Johnson vaccines are one shot.

As a result, with 1.2 million doses reportedly given in Hawaii on Friday, the state will need to give at least another million doses to hit the 80% immunity threshold.

When will it happen?

Lt. Governor Josh Green often cites July 4th as the target holiday when herd immunity will be achieved in Hawaii, but the current pace must continue.

The unknown variables include knowing whether vaccinations will be available this summer for children ages 12-15 and younger, and the future influx of variants.

“It will take a lot of work in the next few months to reach this critical mass,” said Raethel. “If we don’t reach the critical mass, we still have a very high risk in the population. If we don’t vaccinate enough people, variants only have more chances of spreading. “


Hawaii population: 1.4 million

Immunity thresholds

>> 70%, a total of 1.9 million images required *

>> 80%, a total of 2.2 million recordings required

>> 85%, a total of 2.5 million exposures required

Source: Hawaii Health Association

* Numbers rounded


More accessible availability:

>> Vaccination Center Pier 1, walk-ins Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments are also available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit

>> The Kaiser Consolidated Theater in Kapolei accepts walk-ins Tuesday through Saturday after 11.00am. You can also find dates at

>> For more options, visit vaccination registration.

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