Nearly 20% of Honolulu first responders receive COVID-19 vaccine
City officials are encouraged by the initial round of volunteers, and are hopeful more will step up to receive the vaccine
Gordon Y.K. Pang
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
About 20% of the city's 4,500 first responders received the Moderna vaccination shot against COVID-19 during the first two days it was offered, city officials said Thursday, and they are urging others to step up and do the same.
For the city to be able to administer the vaccinations "is the light at the end of the tunnel," Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said during a news conference. "It's the best Christmas present we could give to ourselves, to our island, to our state, to our country and to the world and this planet. And the City and County of Honolulu has made a commitment to get all of its first responders vaccinated, if they want to be vaccinated."
Hiro Toiya, the city's emergency management director, said that of the 936 first responders who received their shots Tuesday and Wednesday, 649 were Honolulu Police Department officers, 173 were firefighters with the Honolulu Fire Department and 114 paramedics, emergency medical technicians and lifeguards with the Department of Emergency Services.
"Things are running pretty smoothly, " Toiya said of the vaccination operations that got underway Tuesday at the Leeward Community College parking lot. "We do expect these numbers to continue to grow significantly over the coming days."
Between 60% and 70% of first responders are expected to receive the voluntary vaccination. Toiya said he understands that some may be hesitant to accept the vaccination, but he urged the undecided to strongly consider doing so.
"If you're still out there and on the fence, please really think about getting this vaccine, " Toiya said. "It's a safe product, and you guys have been out there since Day One keeping our community safe and continue to have exposure out there in your interactions with the public. ... We want to make sure that you're taking advantage of this opportunity to get this vaccine."
Caldwell said he's noticed that more and more first responders are choosing to get their shots as they see their colleagues do so, and he believes the numbers will increase markedly in the coming days and weeks.
Toiya noted that Police Chief Susan Ballard, Fire Chief Manuel Neves and Emergency Services Director Jim Howe all got vaccinated earlier this week, partly to encourage their ranks to also receive the shot.
"We do have a number of them changing their minds, " Toiya said. "We also had some scheduling difficulties, obviously, because we've got to work around the schedules of the first responders."
Altogether, about 1, 500 people have been administered the vaccination by the city, including state and federal first responders.
State Department of Health guidelines call for city, state and federal first responders to be the first to receive vaccinations. Health Department staff who are working to administer the vaccinations also are among those who went first, Toiya said. Seniors in care homes and those who work at those facilities are among the second batch sometime next week.
"I'm going to get it when it's my turn, " Caldwell said. At a news conference Tuesday, Caldwell watched as Ballard, Neves and Howe received their shots. He said he doesn't consider himself a first responder and that he will stand in line with other seniors when their turn comes in the next few weeks when he's no longer mayor.
Dr. Jonathan Dworkin, a local clinical infectious-diseases doctor, called mass vaccination a critical component to ending the pandemic. "The vaccine is the one thing that really allows you to crush the curve, " he said.
Dr. Jim Ireland, city Emergency Services medical director, said one person who got the vaccine, a woman in her 30s, developed a "mild to moderate allergic reaction." The woman, who had "mainly a rash and some hives, " responded well to oral medication at the scene and went to the hospital as a precaution. One case of an allergic reaction out of about 1, 500 "is not unexpected, " he said.
Ireland said he got vaccinated, had a little bit of soreness in his arm similar to one experienced with a flu shot, and had a mild headache that went away with some Tylenol.
Caldwell said he believes he made the right call last week in removing inmates from the COVID-19-positive counts used in calculating what category in the city's tiered system the island should be in. The city is currently under Tier 2, which allows a limited number of activities to be conducted and businesses to open.
The mayor has repeatedly warned that Oahu could revert to the more restrictive Tier 1 if the trend of triple-digit new cases continues.
If Oahu has more than 100 new daily cases on average for two consecutive weeks, the county will move to Tier 1 from the current Tier 2. Oahu recorded 129 new infections Thursday and a seven-day average case count of 100.
However, Caldwell said, "without inmates being counted, we have a seven-day average of 83 cases and a positivity rate of 2.8 %." Caldwell said Gov. David Ige agreed that prisoners would not be counted for the purpose of steps between tiers.
Moving back to Tier 1 would cause a mass shutdown of businesses. Caldwell, whose term of office ends Jan. 2, said he's hopeful that doesn't happen during the last six days of his administration.
"If we are below 100 cases, we remain in Tier 2, and I'm hopeful that we're going to remain in Tier 2, " Caldwell said.
None of the 129 new positive cases came from the corrections system, he said.
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