Efforts expand to reach those in Hawaii not vaccinated for COVID-19

Jun. 19—The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is taking a hands-on, grassroots approach to helping residents in the area get vaccinated.

The center has been offering free COVID-19 vaccination clinics at area schools, including Waianae High and Intermediate schools and Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, as well as approaching homeless camps in the area to offer them on-site vaccinations.

On Wednesday the center held another clinic at Waianae Intermediate School to administer second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the community.

"We've been getting a very good turnout at the schools, " said Dr. Vija Sehgal, chief quality officer and director of pediatrics at WCCHC. "We've had a lot of interest, over 350 students so far, and these were kids very eager to get vaccinated. The next step is those that need to be convinced."

Part of the center's strategy is to encourage each student to text five friends about getting vaccinated. Also, the center set up an "Instagram photo booth " at the clinic for those who want to take selfies after getting the vaccine and share them to their own personal social media.

In ZIP code 96792, representing Waianae, 35 % of the population has been fully vaccinated while 45 % have initiated COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the state Department of Health dashboard.

The rates are the same in Kapolei as well as ZIP codes on Oahu's North Shore, including Waialua, Haleiwa and Kahuku.

WCCHC hit the ground running, according to Sehgal, and was among the first in the state to work in partnership with the state Department of Education to vaccinate teachers and staff.

Jake Schafer, the center's director of infection control and employee health, said there have been two surges in COVID-19 cases on the Waianae coast, similar to statewide trends, but they are now on a downward trend.

"We are approaching 12, 000 vaccines administered, which is something we're very proud of, especially because we're not a Queen's, we're not a Kaiser, we're not some huge hospital, " said Schafer. "We're a community health center. We're very proud of that number and what our team has been able to accomplish."

The focus is now on reaching those who are still on the fence about getting vaccinated, and the center is shifting from offering larger to smaller vaccination clinics, with more targeted outreach.

This week the center is rolling out vaccination clinics at satellite sites including Nanakuli, Makaha, Kapolei and Waipahu, Schafer said.

This month the center is also offering a $5 Makeke gift certificate to all individuals ages 18 and up who show their vaccination card for use at its farmers markets.

Schafer said the center is also pursuing funds to launch its own prizes and incentives program for the community, plus conduct a survey to pinpoint the reasons for vaccine hesitancy.

Leina Kanana, the center's director of community health services, said outreach efforts continue for homeless populations in the area, from the coastline to inland valleys and parks.

She says it's hesitancy, rather than access, that poses a hurdle to increasing vaccination numbers.

"It's the 'wait and see, you go first, I'm going to give it a few more months' kind of attitude, " she said, "and that's what we're seeing across the board with all demographics."

Bringing the vaccinations directly to the campsites seems to be working, even though a clinic might be right next door.

An outreach team also went to the Waianae Small Boat Harbor on Wednesday to follow up on vaccinations after earlier visits, she said. Some were vaccinated by the nonprofit Project Vision Hawaii.

More become interested as they see fellow neighbors get the vaccine, she said. About half out of 200 who live at the boat harbor have now been vaccinated for COVID-19. Oftentimes the campsite leader plays a pivotal role—if they get vaccinated, others will get vaccinated, as well.

"It's a community there, " she said. "A very tightknit community."

Sehgal said community partnerships, including those with school principals in Waianae, have played a key role in vaccination outreach efforts.

"People are hesitant for different reasons, and there's not one size fits all, " she said. "Everyone has their own personal reasons as to why they chose not to be vaccinated yet."

Sometimes she has seen teens convince their parents to let them get a vaccine. Many individuals still have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, she said, and "it's our job to try to figure out what those questions are and try to answer them."

"Some we may never be able convince, but I do believe that we can continue chipping away and convincing them it's safe and effective, " she said. "The more people that get vaccinated and the more the numbers go up, I think people will start believing the science."

What is encouraging, she said, is that she is seeing more people at the clinics who changed their minds after their friends, relatives and ohana got vaccinated.

Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center also offers a COVID-19 hotline and drive-thru testing, along with community support programs. More vaccination clinics are scheduled at schools in July.

On Friday the state Department of Health reported a total of 1, 637, 582 doses administered in the state, with 56 % having completed vaccinations and 61 % having initiated vaccinations.

The state also continues its #higotvaccinated incentives campaign, which gives all Hawaii adult residents who get a vaccine shot up to June 30 the opportunity to register for prize drawings, including round-trip airline tickets, gift cards and food.