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Miloli?i Vaccinations Push Hawaiian Fishing Village Toward Herd Immunity

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Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele
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A mobile vaccination clinic was held in Miloli'i on March 27 in an effort to vaccinate as many residents as possible in this remote and rural coastal community.

The old Hawaiian fishing village of Miloli?i on Hawai?i Island is on its way to achieving herd immunity against COVID-19. This past weekend alone, nearly half of the residents in this remote South Kona community received their coronavirus vaccine.

Miloli?i native Ka?imi Kaupiko, 38, wasn’t entirely sure he needed the vaccine at first. He did after all contract the virus back in September when COVID-19 spread to a dozen residents in this isolated coastal community.

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Credit Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele
More than 100 Miloli'i residents received a one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine at a recent mobile vaccination clinic in this remote fishing village.

“I just figured no need because I have the antibodies,” says Kaupiko. “But I just knew that I could get COVID again. So I know the chances of me taking the vaccination will be more likely, I wouldn't get COVID again.”

Kaupiko received the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine Saturday at a mobile vaccination clinic organized by the Bay Clinic.

Kimo Alameda, Bay Clinic’s CEO, says bringing this event to Miloli?i was a logistical challenge with no access to county electricity for example to keep the vaccines cold until they?re administered.

“So, you know, we have to take generators, electrical cords, gasoline. We have to take special Wi-Fi equipment to access the Internet. That means we have to take laptops,” says Alameda. “We have to kind of replicate a clinic in a halau, in a pavilion, basically.”

The nearest hospital is at least an hour-long drive.

Kaupiko, whose family has lived in Miloli?i for generations, says some residents refused the vaccine and others just needed convincing.

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Credit Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele

“I think a lot of it is fear. A lot of people believe that because they live here, they don't really go anywhere, they don't need to take the vaccine. Some of them don't believe in vaccinations,” says Kaupiko. “I think once we saw more families sign up and do it, then the rest of the families would come and get the shot and that's kind of what happened.”

In the end, 120 of Miloli?i’s 300 residents received the vaccine. Alameda says vaccination efforts helped the fishing village achieve 80% herd immunity when you factor in residents who have already been vaccinated through their workplace.

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Credit Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele
Residents and volunteers pose for a photo during a mobile vaccination clinic in Miloli'i.

A bright spot for Hawai?i Island, which has seen more than 2,400 COVID-19 cases in the last year.

County spokesman Cyrus Johnasen says so far more than 25% of the island’s population has been vaccinated.

“We are getting vaccinated as quickly as possible,” says Johnasen. “We want to remind folks that the threat of COVID-19 is still very real in our county and continuing to follow all social distancing practices, aside from getting the vaccination, is the way that we can keep our communities safe.”

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Credit Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele

Alameda says the mobile vaccination clinic could be a model in reaching other remote and rural communities on the Big Island.

“Those groups who lack transportation, those groups who lack access to an Internet, those groups who lack awareness of the COVID vaccine,” says Alameda. “I think we have a special niche to fill the gaps that other health entities are having difficulty filling. And those are gaps that require a different approach to getting the vaccine to the people.”

For Kaupiko, vaccinations could be a gamechanger for the people of his hometown.

“I just want to make sure our families can be able to not be controlled and confined by the shutdown in the pandemic. And we can kind of go back to, you know, providing for our families,” says Kaupiko.

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