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Health care providers prepare to vaccinate Hawaiʻi's youngest keiki

Children enter a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Kapiʻolani Medical Center.
Hawaiʻi Pacific Health
Hawaiʻi Pacific Health
Children enter a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Kapiʻolani Medical Center.

There are more than 80,000 children in Hawaiʻi under the age of 5 who are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

About 27,500 vaccines are expected to arrive by Wednesday, according to state Department of Health’s Brooks Baehr.

This comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization last week for COVID vaccines specially designed for keiki between the ages of 6 months to 5 years old.

The state health department authorized vaccination providers over the weekend following recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Baehr said the DOH has partnered with more than 100 vaccination providers throughout the state.

“The keiki vaccines that are going to be rolling out this week are specifically for young children,” Baehr said. “They're smaller doses. While the technology is the same, while they're mRNA vaccines, they're smaller doses.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is one-tenth of the adult dose, and the Moderna vaccine is one-quarter of the adult dose, Baehr said. And with that, the vaccines feature smaller needles.

Hawaiʻi Pacific Health will begin vaccine clinics this weekend on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi. The clinic at Kapiʻolani Medical Center will be able to accommodate 400 pre-registered appointments per day and will expand if there is more interest.

On Monday, HPH Executive Vice President Dr. Melinda Ashton said these clinics will administer only the three-dose Pfizer vaccines to ensure no child gets a mixed dose.

“The youngest children with smaller muscles will get the shot in their thigh, which is where we give most pediatric vaccines and then as their arm muscles get bigger, then we can give them in the arm if that's the preference,” Ashton said.

For now, the DOH is hoping for a conservative 30% vaccination rate in this demographic.

“If we can get 40% of the 5 through 11-year-olds, then we are optimistic that we will be able to hit the target of 30% of children in this younger age group,” Baehr said. “As you can imagine, the younger a child gets, the younger a person gets, the more careful maybe a parent is before they try something new.”

At HPH, the vaccine clinic is decorated with baby shark posters to help put children at ease. Pediatric nurses and pediatricians will be on site to answer questions.

“We know that the best place for these kids to get their shots is in their pediatric physician's office,” Ashton said. “We also are not sure just how many of those offices are ready yet to give those shots. So we're not intending to be here giving these shots for a very, very long time. What we're trying to do is get those families that are really interested in getting their kids vaccinated as quickly as possible, helping them out.”

Across the nation, the CDC reports that more than 400 children under age 4 have died from COVID-19.

“We've had hundreds of kids in Hawaiʻi hospitalized from the effects of becoming infected with COVID-19,” Baehr said. “A certain percentage of those children have also had to deal with long-haul COVID, maybe it's just fatigue or a lingering cough or something. But those are things that we really can help prevent with these vaccines.”

Vaccines will be doled out at clinics, pediatric offices and pharmacies. Keiki vaccine availability can be found at hawaiicovid19.com.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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