COVID-19 Q&A with Dr. Gerard Akaka

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Photo: Gerard Akaka

COVID-19 vaccination programs are being rolled out around the world. Here in Hawaiʻi, more than 220,000 people have already been vaccinated, but the entire process will take months.

Phase 1 of the rollout includes three priority groups. The first group includes health care personnel and long-term care facility residents – they were the first to receive vaccinations. The second priority group is currently being vaccinated. This group includes first responders (e.g., police, firefighters), frontline essential workers (e.g., school personnel and others whose work must be performed in-person), and kūpuna 75 years and older. The third priority group includes all other essential workers, kūpuna 65 years and older, and people 16-64 years of age with high risk medical conditions. If all individuals in Phase 1 receive the vaccination, that will take care of 73% of Hawaiʻi’s population.

Phase 2 of the rollout should begin in the summer and will include people 16 years and older who are not in any of the other categories – the remaining 27% of the population.

Dr. Gerard Akaka is vice president of Native Hawaiian Affairs & Clinical Support for the Queen’s Health Systems. He’s an Internal Medicine physician who served in the U.S. Air Force, then at the Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center before moving to the Queen’s Medical Center. For the past 26 years he’s had wonderful relationships with many Hawaiians as their kauka.

Why should I be vaccinated for COVID-19?

Scientific evidence indicates that getting a COVID-19 vaccine can prevent you from getting seriously ill from COVID-19. It can also help protect people around you, particularly those at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

If you have any questions about whether the vaccine is right for you, please contact your primary care provider to discuss your medical history.

Will there be enough vaccine for everyone in Hawaiʻi?

Yes. Although initial supplies are limited, millions more doses are in production. Before the end of 2021 everyone in Hawaiʻi should be able to be vaccinated.

Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout the pae ʻāina are vaccination centers. In addition, medical centers such as Queen’s, Kaiser Permanente and other health centers are signing people up for vaccination appointments. Visit hawaiicovid19.com/vaccination-registration/ for links to vaccination clinics available throughout the state.

How much will the COVID-19 vaccine cost?

The COVID-19 vaccine is being offered free of charge. This is a national public health priority and the vaccine has been purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

COVID-19 vaccines were tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. Over 40,000 people participated in these trials to study how the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection to people of different ages, races and ethnicities, as well as those with different medical conditions. Even after initial studies, the safety of the vaccine is continuously monitored via multiple safety monitoring systems.

What kind of side effects can I expect after taking the COVID-19 vaccine?

Some people have reported soreness in the arm at the point of injection. Some have experienced flu-like symptoms, or report feeling lethargic or tired. The vast majority experience no adverse side effects.

I hear that the vaccine can make me sick. Is that true?

Some people may experience side effects that include pain and swelling at the injection site, headache, fever, muscle aches and being very tired. These side effects may start within a few hours after you receive the shot and should be mostly gone about 36 hours after the shot. It is also important to know that you cannot get the COVID-19 infection from the vaccines.

How many doses does the vaccine require?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots. The first shot starts building protection, but everyone who receives the first shot has to return a few weeks later for the second one to complete the protection process.

How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine is about 95% effective. The Moderna vaccine is about 94% effective. For each vaccine, two shots are needed to attain full immunity.

Why are people that are not in tier B1 getting vaccinated?

Vaccines come in vials that have either 5 or 10 doses depending on the manufacturer. Once thawed, the doses must be used within 6 hours of opening otherwise they get thrown out. When people miss their appointments, the limited supply vaccine is in danger of being wasted so vaccination sites have lists of people that live or work nearby that are called as backup appointments. Sometimes the only people available to come on short notice are from a different tier, which is how they are receiving the vaccine. The public is asked to make every effort to keep their assigned appointment times.

What do I need to bring to the vaccination clinic?

Bring your ID, Medicare or insurance card, and, if you have one, your vaccination card.

What can I do to help?

You can help by taking care of our kūpuna. Offer to help kūpuna with online registration for the vaccine which can act as a barrier for getting vaccinated. Serve as a kākoʻo and drive kūpuna to their appointment; support kūpuna through the two-dose vaccination process, so this especially vulnerable population can get protected against COVID-19.

For more information about COVID-19, the COVID-19 vaccine, or the COVID-19 vaccination rollout here in Hawaiʻi go to:

What You Should Know

or

COVID-19 Vaccine