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Challenges for keiki and parents as access to COVID vaccines transition to physicians

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Keiki between the ages of 5 and 11 have been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine since late last year. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized booster shots for that age group.

But the state Department of Health says only 38% of Hawaiʻi's youth have received their first two doses — and only 1% of that group has received a booster shot.

While there are studies finding COVID is less severe in children, that doesn't mean there aren't serious cases.

"I have kids that are coming in after having COVID several weeks to months out, with complaints of difficulty breathing. Really just having trouble catching their breath — even sitting at rest," said Dr. Monica Singer, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children. "I've had kids coming in, saying that they just can't really seem to focus since they were sick with COVID."

Singer treats children with COVID as a pediatrician, but also works with the DOH's immunization branch.

"I feel just so sad for these kids because they truly are suffering. And I always wish I can do more," Singer said.

According to the latest report from the DOH, new cases in the state have climbed for a 10th consecutive week. The health department's data does not reflect home tests that have positive results.

Local health officials are still encouraging people to take precautions, such as facial coverings and physical distancing. They are also still encouraging residents to get vaccinated. However, it's getting harder for keiki to get the shot.

Singer tells HPR she has noticed the number of vaccination locations dwindling. But she said this is due to a transition that is happening at the federal and state levels.

"We're really trying to move this vaccine back into the communities and into the medical home," she said. "So we would really like for the doctors that are seeing their patients regularly, to have the vaccine available in their office — to vaccinate their patients.

"It's really one of the best places where you can receive your vaccine, and have questions about the vaccine or this virus answered by a trusted source," Singer said.

But there are challenges to getting the vaccines into doctors' offices.

"We don't have everybody signed up and enrolled in this vaccine program," Singer told HPR. "Because [the vaccine's] an emergency use authorization, as you can imagine, there's some paperwork involved in getting enrolled in this program."

According to Singer, there are concerns among physicians about wasting doses because they are in multi-dose vials.

"That is a very valid concern, but we are in unprecedented times right now," she said. "Getting vaccine into arms is actually much more important than wasting some of the doses. So we would rather see one dose or two doses come out of that multi-dose vial than have it expire on the shelf."

Singer also acknowledged there are also concerns with staff training, but added that the DOH is working with practices to address these concerns.

As cases continue to climb in the islands, Singer is encouraging residents to talk with their doctors about any vaccine questions.

A list of vaccination sites can also be found at www.HawaiiCOVID19.com

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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