Hawaii received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, which will hopefully mark a turning point in the state’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left nearly 20,000 people sick and 274 dead.
Queen’s Medical Center received a shipment of 975 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and will begin immunizing frontline workers today.
Another 3,900 cans are expected to arrive on Wednesday. Nearly 45,000 more Pfizer vaccines will be added this month. In addition, 36,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected by the end of the year, which have yet to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Governor David Ige hailed the move as “an important milestone in ongoing efforts to fight COVID-19 and get life back to normal”.
“It is gratifying to have the vaccine available to health care workers who have sacrificed so much to protect us all,” Ige said in a press release. “The vaccine provides another important layer of protection to protect our kupuna and others in long-term care facilities.”
Honolulu City and County and the state Department of Health held training exercises on Monday as officials prepared to set up vaccination clinics for first responders, key health care workers, and residents and long-term care workers across the state.
Healthcare workers who are directly exposed to coronavirus patients – including patients in emergency rooms and intensive care units – will initially be vaccinated along with residents of long-term care facilities.
Queen’s, which employs 5,400 people in Punchbowl, 1,000 on the West Oahu campus, 350 people in North Hawaii Community Hospital in Hawaii and 200 people in Molokai General Hospital, will also immunize workers treating vulnerable populations, people with chronic illnesses and the elderly and finally “everyone in the organization” for the next several months.
Hospital executives said the vaccine is not mandatory for staff but is very encouraged. The vaccine, which must be stored at minus 60 degrees Celsius, was shipped in containers with dry ice and transferred to the hospital’s ultra-cold freezers.
“This is an important day indeed. We have been looking forward to this day for a long time, “said Jill Hoggard Green, President and CEO of The Queen’s Health Systems, in a press release. “This vaccine gives us another layer of protection against this devastating disease.”
Headache, sore muscles, and fatigue are some of the side effects reported by Hawaii doctors who were part of a national COVID-19 vaccine study.
Dr. Kelley Withy, an Oahu doctor who participated in the Pfizer vaccine study, had pain in the gunshot area for about three to four days and a mild headache for about the same amount of time.
“Now I just feel a little invincible and I’m really glad I did. I absolutely believe in the science behind the vaccine, ”said Withy, describing herself as a“ careful ”GP. “I hope that when we are around 70% vaccinated, we can go back to normal.”
Dr. Eric Lau, a Honolulu radiologist, took part in the same study with about 40,000 others around the world in September, half of whom were given a placebo. He and Withy said they both experienced side effects, which is why they believe they received the right vaccine.
Lau said the first sign of side effects appeared around six to eight hours after the injection when his left arm, where the shot was being administered, began to throb.
“The arm pain felt like a flu shot, but worse, like a really bad bruise,” he said in an email.
On the second day he felt “extremely tired” with “associated generalized muscle pain”.
“I felt very sluggish and was pretty wiped out,” he added. “I was pretty unproductive and just wanted to nap all day.”
He said he felt better the next day and by the fourth day his energy levels were “back to normal”, although the arm pain persisted for six days. On the seventh day the symptoms were gone.
However, he had the same symptoms after receiving a second shot three weeks later, plus a new side effect: swollen and tender lymph nodes in his left armpit, same side as the shot.
Five weeks after the first injection, Lau tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, which indicates he is not susceptible to the virus. Scientists still don’t know if people who are vaccinated can still carry the virus and infect others. They also don’t know how long the immunity will last.
“Until these questions are answered, we must continue to protect ourselves and the people we love by wearing face masks and physically distancing ourselves,” said state health director Libby Char.
Health officials reported 190 new coronavirus infections nationwide on Monday, bringing the total to 19,424 cases since the pandemic began. An outbreak at Halawa Correctional Facility was responsible for 85 of the 158 new infections reported for Oahu.
The state’s official COVID-19 death toll remains at 274 with no new deaths reported.
Nationwide, coronavirus deaths have exceeded 300,000, with more than 16 million infections having occurred since the pandemic began. The global death toll is more than 1.6 million with over 72 million confirmed infections.
“I weighed the risks and benefits, and it was a breeze for me to sign up for the study,” Lau said. “There were no efficacy data at the time of my enrollment, but I thought if the vaccine offered some protection against COVID-19, some protection would be better than none. For me it was definitely worth attending the negotiation, especially if there was a chance to protect older family members / grandparents. “