Last month, I was honored to represent the Office of Hawaiian Affairs at a Meals & Mahalo event held at the Queen’s Medical Center West Oʻahu. Meals & Mahalo is the result of a partnership between OHA and Lunalilo Home that provides healthy Hawaiian lunches to health care providers as a small token of gratitude for their work in battling COVID-19. Meals & Mahalo has also distributed meals at several other hospitals including Hilo Medical Center, Queen’s North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital, Straub Medical Center, and Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center.
Sadly, Native Hawaiians make up a heartbreaking number of those who have gotten sick, hospitalized, or in the worst of scenarios, lost their lives due to the coronavirus.
Zip codes with a high concentration of Native Hawaiian residents became “hot zones” – a deadly combination of low vaccination rates and high positive case counts. For this reason, it was important for me, and for OHA, to extend our deep gratitude to the doctors, nurses, and various health support staff for their tireless work on behalf of our people and our beneficiaries.
My gratitude for the doctors and nurses also reminded me of others such as those individuals working in the public health and legislative arenas, who took on the work of promoting vaccination, educating the public and implementing safety measures to keep people as safe as possible. They deserve much credit as well because their efforts have resulted in a robust vaccination rate, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting in October 2021 that 90% of the state’s eligible population had taken at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.
But it should be noted that Hawaiʻi’s high rate of vaccination was achieved without a universal mandate. This shows that voluntary incentives and public health information campaigns are extremely effective at encouraging vaccination, without taking away individual choice.
In my October 2021 Ka Wai Ola column, entitled “Coronavirus Management Should Respect Individual Choice,” I expressed my gratitude for government efforts to encourage, educate, and incentivize a majority of our island population to voluntarily get vaccinated. Although voluntariness was and still is the key, I emphasized that one’s freedom to make personal health choices should not come at the cost of potential harm to others. We must all act responsibly.
I do not know that we can ever repay the great debt we owe to the health care providers and public health professionals who have ushered us through this unprecedented time. But I am thankful that Meals & Mahalo provided me with an opportunity to express my gratitude, and to meet some real-life heroes.
Trustee Akina welcomes your feedback at TrusteeAkina@oha.org.