Pacific Islanders comprise the most COVID-19 hospitalizations of all ethnic groups in Hawaii, according to the state’s Health Department.
Figures released on Monday show that the group accounted for 33% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations, despite making up only 4% of Hawaii’s entire population.
Pacific Islanders also composed the highest percentage of coronavirus cases in the state (26%), and, like Filipino and Japanese patients, the highest number of deaths due to the disease (23%).
By comparison, groups Chinese and “Other Asian,” which each also make up 4% of the population, each accounted for 3% of all COVID-19 infections.
Chantelle Matagi, the lead investigator of the Health Department’s Pacific Island Contact Tracing team, attributed the high cases to socioeconomic issues.
“We do want to make sure that people understand this has nothing to do with genetics. They’re not predisposed. This has everything to do with socioeconomic issues,” Matagi said, according to KHON2.
A group called the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Hawaii COVID-19 Response, Recovery and Resilience Team, also known as NHPI 3R, is responding to the disproportionate impact. They are currently in contact with state leaders regarding a vaccine distribution strategy.
“We’re going to be in the first responder’s category, we’re going to be in a lot of those areas already,” co-lead Sheri Daniels told KHON2. “But how do we make sure for those that maybe aren’t? Where can we make sure they’re in? And that’s probably going to come in the middle of it if we’re going to try to have some say in it.”
#Hawaii’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu this morning. This initial delivery of 975 does of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine marks an important milestone in the ongoing effort to combat #COVID19 and return life to normal. pic.twitter.com/gkma3Jhs4W
— Governor David Ige (@GovHawaii) December 15, 2020
Hawaii’s vaccine distribution plan has three phases. In Phase 1, doses will be given to healthcare workers, first responders, and employees and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 2 will provide vaccines to “critical populations not included in Phase 1,” while Phase 3 will be for the general public, according to Hawaii News Now.
In a press conference on Dec. 10, Hawaii Gov. David Ige and other officials detailed the Health Department’s plan to acquire and distribute a vaccine as soon as the federal government approves one. The next day, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use nationwide.
“Just hours ago, the FDA’s committee of experts voted overwhelmingly in favor to recommend Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. We are optimistic that the FDA will grant the Emergency Use Authorization soon,” said Dr. Char. pic.twitter.com/2CufCuAOoc
— Governor David Ige (@GovHawaii) December 11, 2020
On Monday, Ige announced the arrival of 975 doses of the vaccine, along with 3,900 more expected on Wednesday. About 45,000 additional doses are set to arrive this month, as well as 36,000 of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine pending approval.
“The vaccine is a major tool in combating COVID-19, and it is critical we continue to use all the tools at our disposal,” said Health Department Director Libby Char. “We still do not know whether a person who has been vaccinated can carry the virus and infect others. We do not know how long the vaccine will confer immunity. Until these questions are answered, we must continue to protect ourselves and the people we love by wearing face masks and physical distancing.”
Feature Image via Gov. David Ige (@GovHawaii)