Some 28,000 travelers arrived in the state Saturday, raising questions about the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine passport system in Hawai‘i.
Governments in other parts of the world have started setting up vaccination passport systems in an effort to further open up borders, live events and tourism. As for Hawai‘i, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said he sees a vaccination tracking system coming soon.
"Mark my words, when we are on May 1 we will have done 900,000 shots with the state and another 100,000 with the military. We’ll be at 1 million shots delivered and that's a ton of immunity,” he said.
Green oversaw the launch of the Safe Travels program about five months ago and said that a vaccine tracking system is the ideal next step.
“That’s what the whole nation and the world is going to do. So surely we should lead the way if we can,” he said. “What we’ll see is come May, June, July, people will be able to demonstrate they’ve been vaccinated and that will be sufficient for travel.”
A proven vaccination is a better way to show one’s safety and health than a pretest, which worked when that was all that was available, he said.
“We’ll still tell them to wear masks, there’s no question. But that’s the way to go,” he said.
Green indicated the passport system would not only help open up travel but also events like weddings and marathons.
“If everyone’s immune, then you don’t have to worry about an outbreak,” Green said. “As public health goes, this is the way.”
According to Green, the state is in touch with a couple of companies about setting up a vaccination passport system.
“They have to have the technology to be able to look into databases that are just showing whether or not a person’s been vaccinated and match that with their identifiers like their name and birthdate,” Green told Hawai‘i Public Radio. “What sounds pretty simple is actually quite complicated especially if you're talking about multiple states, multiple systems.”
Requiring people to show a signed vaccination card is another avenue that Green mentioned, and those who break the rule would be subject to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.
“But even so, backing it up with technology is good for convenience and we’re working on this,” Green said.
National companies like CommonPass, VeriFLY, and Clear are already working to develop vaccine tracking systems, he said.
“They’re doing it in Israel, they’re doing it in Iceland. They’re now doing it all across Europe and there's pressure on the federal government to get it done by June 1.”
By July 1, Green said he thinks Hawai‘i should be able to vaccinate everybody who wants it.
Still, the most important things to do are wear masks, socially distance, and get vaccinated, he said.
“Six, eight times a day I’m checking the numbers--making sure our hospitals are OK and our counts aren’t surging,” Green said. “If we see a big surge, we’ll pull back. If we keep it fairly steady, we’ll just keep vaccinating until we’re safe.”
More COVID-19 variants are being identified across the globe just as visitors arrive in Hawai‘i in numbers not seen since before the pandemic.
“I think really right now, it’s variants versus how quickly we can get herd immunity vaccine coverage,” acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said.
Kemble said the state laboratory can test up to 75 specimens per week for whole-genome sequencing--a representative sample of the variants found in Hawaii.
Over the last few weeks, the California, UK and South Africa variants among others have been detected in Hawai‘i, according to Kemble.
“I think it is likely we’ll see some uptick in cases following spring break with all the travel that’s going on and because we are learning that some of these variants that have made their way here do spread more quickly,” Kemble said. “And we just moved into tier 3 in Honolulu so there’s been a little bit of relaxation around restaurants, some of the other settings.”
“Our hope would be that if we have vaccinated the most vulnerable in our population to a high degree, that we see less rise in hospitalization and deaths accompanying a rise in cases,” she added.
Just like Green, Kemble said it is still critically important to use common sense, wear a mask, and socially distance.