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Mass COVID Vaccination Clinics Continue Weekly, Walk-Ins Accepted on Fridays

By Tiffany DeMasters
March 4, 2021, 5:44 PM HST
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Galen Kawasaki has been waiting to get the COVID-19 vaccine since the pandemic broke out a year ago.

The Safeway cashier got his chance to obtain the shot through Kona Community Hospital’s second mass vaccination clinic on Thursday at the Kona Community Aquatic Center gym. Kawasaki was one of more than 600 people to be inoculated.

“It’s a relief that we can get some protection,” Kawasaki said.

Mass vaccinations have been taking place in Hilo and Kona by appointment only. Up to now, kūpuna ages 75 years or older, essential workers and educators have been the only ones qualified to receive the shot. However, starting March 8, the Department of Health will now offer the vaccine to individuals 70 years of age or older.

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Judy Donovan, KCH spokeswoman, said the hospital was unable to handle the number of people requesting appointments for the vaccine. Last week, more than 200 people were vaccinated at KCH.

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“Working in collaboration with the Department of Health and West Hawai‘i Community Health Center, we decided to pool our resources and come down to the gym…and open up to a much larger population,” Donovan said.

People were moving through the gym smoothly. With members of the public checking in on the makai side of the building, they filled out paperwork while waiting for the next health care worker available to give the vaccine.

When the health care worker was finishing vaccinating someone, he/she held up a paddle indicating he/she was ready to take the next person waiting.

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After getting the shot, people waited in an observation area for 15 minutes to ensure they didn’t have a bad reaction to the vaccine. For those with a history of allergies to vaccines, they were required to stay 30 minutes.

Hawai‘i County has offered the gym as a location to continue the mass clinics until they are no longer needed.

Starting tomorrow, March 5, West Hawai‘i Community Health Center (WHCHC) will offer a walk-in clinic for the community every Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Natasha Ala, director of marketing and development at WHCHC, said this week’s clinic will be for kūpuna 75 years or older and essential workers.

“It’ll be first-come-first-serve so come when you can,” Ala said Thursday.

KCH is administering the Pfizer vaccine while WCHC is proving the Moderna vaccine. DOH also announced the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was now available in the state, however, Donovan and Ala don’t know when their respective facilities will have access to it.

The Kona hospital and clinic aren’t currently having supply issues.

“We have a steady supply of Pfizer…,” Donovan explained. “Right now we’re receiving one tray a week (975 doses).

Donovan added they always want to have enough vaccine on hand to provide the second shot.

For several weeks now, Hawai‘i County has maintained a low number of COVID cases. Donovan believes the reason behind this isn’t just because of the vaccine rollout.

“I’ve been pretty amazed with our community and their compliance with the mask wearing and social distancing,” she added. “Almost everyone I see is willing to do what’s necessary to protect each other.”

The resounding feeling among people waiting for their vaccine during Thursday’s clinic was the importance of protecting not only themselves but those around them from the virus.

“(I’m here) to help prevent it from going further, including ourselves,” said Barbara Cameron who was there with her husband Jim. Both are 75 years or older.

Kawasaki said a lot of his family and friends are at risk or have been affected by COVID-19.

“Just take it — it’s easy,” Kawasaki said. “It’s harmless, painless, quick and simple. Didn’t hurt at all.”

For more information on obtaining a vaccine through KCH, click here.

For more information on obtaining a vaccine through West Hawai‘i Community Health Center, click here.

For more information on obtaining a vaccine through Hilo Medical Center, click here.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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