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Hawaii health department yet to decide who will lead vaccine distribution planning

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The CDC told every state to get ready to distribute a vaccine as soon as Nov. 1.

Hawaii’s Department of Health has yet to decide who will take the lead in developing that process. Always Investigating reports on calls to get a head start.

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KHON2 found that many states are already planning, but Hawaii’s DOH said that they’re reviewing the CDC guidance.

Hawaii’s counties, emergency management agency and its defense departments are all waiting on the DOH. Lawmakers want the logistics in place as soon as possible, and they added that emergency responders may be better suited to lead the way.

“Limited COVID-19 vaccine doses may be available by early November 2020,” with the supply increasing substantially in 2021.

That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told all 50 states last week, sending them an urgent written request to have a plan in place in October for what the CDC director calls a “fully operational” distribution.

KHON2 asked the state if they had received the notice, and the state Department of Health responded to Always Investigating stating:

“On Aug. 27, DOH recently received federal guidance on an early COVID-19 vaccination program. We are reviewing the guidance carefully and evaluating the next steps.”

“Developing the process will take some time due to still many unknowns,” the DOH statement said, “and may be led by a select group of experts or task force or an experienced individual.”

The health department said that it “will at some point present plans and recommendations to the governor, legislature and community partners for input.”

Several other states already have vaccine distribution planning processes well underway.

“Are we just going to continue to be reactive, slow on the take, late to the game?” asked Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19. “Or are we going to be able to get ahead of this and start to put a team in charge of building out infrastructure, capacity, logistics, so that we can handle and lead with the pandemic a lot more effectively?”

There is no FDA-approved vaccine yet, but several leading contenders are in late stage-three trials.

The CDC told the states that the FDA could soon authorize emergency release.

Pundits questioned the CDC’s call for election-eve vaccine readiness and said that it is premature and a political move.

Lawmakers in Hawaii said that we should have a plan nonetheless.

“Even though some people may be skeptical, all of us may have concerns about if that’s really real or not, it could be an election ploy, the reality is for our own local government is we have to get ahead of the game,” Dela Cruz said. “We can’t keep reacting. It’s not just about this issue. There are many issues we’re just playing catchup on, and as we’re playing catchup it’s just causing a lot of stress, a lot of frustration.”

The CDC instructs state health officials to outline priority recipients, which providers will administer it where, when, how and even where doses will be kept. The CDC said that the vials will need ultracold storage.

The state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center told KHON2 in a statement: “Mass vaccine distribution will be complicated, with many variables like. refrigeration, shelf life, dosage, and delivery.”

Several counties told KHON2 that they’re deferring to the state Department of Health to manage planning for the whole state and that they will stand ready to work with them on a quick and fair distribution plan.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator Luke Meyers told KHON2, “HI-EMA is supporting the Department of Health in the development of the vaccine distribution process.”

Some say HI-EMA and the Hawaii National Guard would be better to take the lead.

“General (Kenneth) Hara was put in charge as incident commander for a reason,” Dela Cruz said. “What he is good at is logistics, planning, implementation, creating benchmarks, follow-through, making sure that there’s some way to measure and assess the situation so improvements can be made. Leave the technical and medical expertise to Department of Health.”

Especially in the midst of DOH’s leadership upheavals, infrastructure that has sprung up beyond the health department alone, such as with contact tracing and testing. These recent experiences may serve as a fallback in case vaccine distribution needs more avenues to scale up quickly.

“If you look at the surge testing now, and what the Honolulu Fire Department has ramped up quickly,” Dela Cruz said. “When we went to the convention center (for the standup of the extra contact tracing), Dr. Emily Roberson had made a mention that it was because of HI-EMA’s that they were able to ramp it up. How many chairs do you need? How many computers do you need? Where do we get it? What’s going to be the training? How do we make sure that everyone was able to complete the task at hand? That’s a lot of leadership and management. We can leverage a lot of things that are going on already.”

“We just have to have the right leadership call and you’ve just got to push the button to say, ‘Go. Go ahead and let’s do this,” Dela Cruz said.

Agency statements on vaccine distribution process planning

Department of Health:

“On Aug. 27, DOH recently received federal guidance on an early COVID-19 vaccination program. We are reviewing the guidance carefully and evaluating the next steps. With a vaccine anticipated possibly in the next few months, the DOH is already working on developing a distribution process and will at some point present plans and recommendations to the governor, legislature, and community partners for input. Developing the process will take some time due to still many unknowns and may be led by a select group of experts or task force or an experienced individual. Those and other decisions will require a diligent review and careful planning that is well timed.”

City & County of Honolulu:

“While we haven’t received any guidance on the availability of a possible vaccine from the CDC, we stand ready to work with the Governor and the Department of Health on developing a distribution plan that will get the vaccine out to the community quickly and fairly.” – County spokesperson

HI-EMA:

“HI-EMA is supporting the Department of Health in the development of the vaccine distribution process.” — Luke Meyers, HI-EMA Administrator

Kauai County:

“Because we have a single State Department of Health (DOH) -and do not have county health departments-this planning is being managed by DOH for the entire state.”

State of Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center:

“Mass vaccine distribution will be a very complicated process. There are many variables to consider, including refrigeration, shelf life, dosage, and delivery – among other things. Numerous state agencies are involved in developing these plans so that once a vaccine is finalized, the State can distribute it in an effective and efficient manner. During the planning process, the Governor and Mayors will work together and ensure information is shared with the Legislature, partners, and community in a timely manner.”

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