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Hawaiʻi's low booster rates, looking at top-ranked Vermont to compare

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"One of the most effective means right now in dealing with the potential of further disease spread is to get those boosters," Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said at a press conference in December.

State and local officials like Blangiardi have been urging residents to get a booster shot, but the booster intake rate in Hawaiʻi has not been impressive.

According to state Department of Health officials, about 40% of Hawaiʻi’s booster-eligible population has received the additional dose.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Hawaiʻi ranked 49th out of 50 states for booster shot rates. Although the state health department disagrees with the CDC’s numbers, the state by state ranking is still concerning.

At the top of the list was Vermont. About 57% of vaccine-eligible Vermonters have received their booster shot. That number does not include immunocompromised people who received a third jab before boosters were available for the rest of the population.

Vermont Deputy Health Commissioner Kelly Dougherty mentions some of the strategies her state used to encourage boosters, explaining, "Really putting boosters where people were. Another thing we did is set up clinics like at malls and places where people might be leading up to the holidays."

"I think that really sending that message that you’re not really fully protected unless you get your booster was key because we didn’t want people to be complacent about getting it," Dougherty told HPR.

She also says Vermont’s health department is using their large social media following to their advantage to promote boosters.

Meanwhile, Hawaiʻi has been experiencing relatively slow booster rates compared to the enthusiasm residents showed for the primary vaccination series. Data shows 75% of state residents have completed their primary vaccination series.

Hawaiʻi Pacific Health executive vice president and chief quality officer Dr. Melinda Ashton says uncertainty may be a reason for low booster rates. She says there are plenty of booster shots for everyone eligible.

"If you haven’t been exposed to the virus and you haven’t had another vaccine dose, those levels in your body are lower. The booster then comes in as a quick sort of 'Wake up! We’re still here!' and asks your immune system to recall that protection. And generally you get a very quick, really high reaction to the booster dose because your body was already ready," Dr. Ashton explains.

Anyone 18 and older can receive a booster dose if it’s been two months since taking the initial Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or five months after taking the Moderna or Pfizer primary vaccine series. Children 12 and over can receive a booster dose five months after taking the Pfizer vaccine.

For more information on vaccine eligibility and locations, visit hawaiicovid19.com.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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