(BIVN) – On Saturday, a team of healthcare workers and community leaders traveled down to the South Kona fishing village of Miloliʻi, where they held a first-of-its-kind COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
“We are bringing a COVID-19 vaccination site to a location where wouldn’t normally have them,” said Congressman Kai Kahele, speaking to the crowd in the village hale, while preparations were made to administer the 150 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “Allowing the COVID-19 vaccination to be distributed in a geographically isolated, rural, Native Hawaiian community is the first time that’s ever happening here in the State of Hawaiʻi,” Kahele said.
“This can be a model for other islands and other communities,” Kahele added, “where they can go out into rural areas – whether it’s Anahola or Kalapada – you know, there’s other areas where this can be applied so. Hopefully there’s some takeaways with our other state partners that can see what we’re doing here in Miloliʻi.”
Kahele said there was initially an idea of using a bus to transport the kūpuna of the village to a different location in Kona to get the vaccine in a more controlled environment. But they decided “that’s not the point of this. The point of this is for us to come to the village and through the community. We know how disproportionately affected Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians have been for COVID-19,” Kahele said, who noted that several villagers contracted the COVID-19 virus last year.
“We’re doing this old school style,” said Dr. C. Kimo Alameda of the Bay Clinic. “You come, we’ll register you here as you come, and we’ll give you the vaccine. It’s just because that’s the only way to do it in a such a rural, isolated area like Miloliʻi.”
“This is the first time that we’re actually putting our vaccines in a portable freezer, putting it on a school bus, driving it down here with us, with our staff, meeting up with other partners to provide this opportunity for this very isolated community,” Alameda said.
Alameda said “the timing was perfect” because they were planning to come down twice when the first vaccines – Moderna and Pfizer, which both require two doses -were given FDA emergency use authorization. “But the probability that we would catch everybody again is is not as high if it was just one dose,” Alameda said. “So, when the Johnson & Johnson (one-dose vaccine) came out, we got the permission from Department of Health to go ahead and and bring that vaccination to the people.”
Alameda was hopeful that they would administer all 150 doses that were brought to the village on Saturday. For the first time, doses were made available to residents 18 years-old and above.
Alameda noted that with Native Hawaiian life expectancy at 75 years old, “when you put an age criteria on who can get the vaccine, and you say ʻlet’s go 75 and over,ʻ well that excludes most Native Hawaiians, right? So this idea of putting an age criteria for a vulnerable community, an isolated community like Miloliʻi, is not helpful. But bringing the vaccine to the people is a way to kind of provide health equity across the races and the ethnicities, and so this is great, I think. This is a way to equalize the playing field and that’s why we’re doing it.”
Congressman Kahele, who has deep roots in the village, went door-to-door with a team of volunteers. “We go house to house, and we do everything we can to get people to come out,” Kahele said. “Seeing people on a Saturday morning, stopping people as they drive by, you know – giving them the flyer that we have, I think it’s worth it. If we go and do this, and one extra person comes out today, then it’s worth it.”
“Our goal is that not a single vaccination goes back up that hill. We’re gonna do whatever we can to make that happen,” Kahele said.
“I think most people are receptive to getting vaccinated,” Alameda said. “To reach herd immunity is kind of our goal. So our President Biden, you know, his goal was to reach herd immunity by July 4th. You know, kind of like the independence, if you will, of the COVID-19. So we also have that that goal. By July 4th we want the Big Island to reach the level of herd immunity and to do that you got to get at least 80 percent of your residents vaccinated. We think if we can distribute at least 150 doses here in Miloliʻi, that might indeed achieve herd immunity.”