Hundreds of Pacific Islanders on the Big Island received the COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend, in a first-of-its-kind mass vaccination clinic in Kona targeting this high-risk population.
Hawaiʻi County donated vans to shuttle in folks who lacked transportation from as far as Hilo, and community volunteers put in hundreds of calls to ensure this opportunity was not wasted.
More than 400 Pacific Islanders lined up to receive the Moderna vaccine Saturday at the Kaiser Permanente Clinic in Kona. Doctor Wilfred Alik, Chair of Kaiser’s Hilo and Waimea Clinics says the turnout was well worth the effort.
“Weʻve been severely impacted by the pandemic, so something like vaccinations is going to go a long way not only in terms of closing the health disparity care gap, but really making sure this community is not left behind,” says Dr. Alik.
According to the latest numbers from the state Department of Health Department, Pacific Islanders in Hawaiʻi make up 4 percent of the state’s population and more than 22 percent of state’s COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Alik says barriers like the lack of internet and transportation among some Pacific Islanders on Hawaiʻi Island required a different approach to mobilizing the community to get vaccinated.
“Putting them on the list is one thing but getting them there is really what matters. The mayor actually donated four vans. So we took two vans out to Ocean View, one to Hilo, one to Kona, and just you know trucked people in,” says Dr. Alik, “We had to call about 400 people to make sure that we fill up the slots. We can’t waste the vaccine. People have to be there.”
Dr. Alik, who also heads the statewide COVID-19 Marshallese Task Force, says the mass vaccination clinic was a collaboration between community-led Pacific Islander groups like the Task Force and Kaiser. Volunteers from the Big Island Marshallese Community Association, Micronesians United Big Island, Micronesian Health Advisory Coalition, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands Consulate helped to field calls, translate and guide participants through the clinic.
No future clinics have been planned, but he hopes this will be the first of many.
“Everything was kind of riding on this,” says Dr. Alik. “All we wanted to do was to make sure that we show Kaiser we’re not just sitting around. We want to be part of the solution.”