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Ige sticks to summer timeline for interisland vaccine passport

Vaccine cards could serve as pass for future travel program

Gov. David Ige speaks at a news conference at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu on Oct. 15, the day the state’s pre-travel testing program launched. Ige said Tuesday that he expects an interisland vaccine passport program to launch this summer, allowing fully vaccinated travelers to bypass COVID-19 testing or quarantine. Lt. Gov. Josh Green has estimated that the program could be ready as soon as May 1. AP file photos

Gov. David Ige said residents should keep their COVID-19 vaccination record cards in case they are needed for a vaccination passport program that he expects to be ready this summer for interisland travel.

“I certainly encourage everyone to keep their vaccination cards and make sure they have a record they have been vaccinated,” Ige told The Maui News Tuesday morning. “I think that it’s very important for people.”

Eagerly awaited by visitors and residents alike, the vaccine passport program would allow travelers who have been vaccinated to skip COVID-19 testing or quarantine. Ige had said last week that the state was not yet ready to move forward with the program because it needed to compile vaccination records and concerns still lingered over high daily case counts on Maui and Oahu.

State officials, however, have discussed launching an interisland program first; on Monday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the state could have the program up for interisland travel by May 1.

On Tuesday, Ige wasn’t ready to commit to a date just yet.

A syringe filled with the Johnson & Johnson's one-dose COVID-19 vaccine is seen net to a vaccination card at the Vaxmobile, at the Uniondale Hempstead Senior Center, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Vaxmobile, is a COVID-19 mobile vaccination unit, sponsored by a partnership between Mount Sinai South Nassau and Town of Hempstead to bring the one-dose vaccine directly to hard-hit communities in the area. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

“I think it’s just a lot of work that has to go into being ready. I’m not going to put out dates,” Ige said, though he later added that the program should be in place by summer.

Before the program could begin, the state needs to create a system to check for proof of vaccination, which Ige hopes can be automated in a similar fashion to the Safe Travels program, which allows travelers to upload proof of their negative COVID-19 test results and produces a QR code that clears a passenger from mandatory quarantine at the airport.

Another concern is logistics at Hawaii’s airports, especially if proof of vaccination needs to be done manually when passengers arrive.

“You know how busy Kahului Airport is. It does create logistical challenges,” Ige said.

The state is looking into both the “low-tech” way of manually checking travelers’ vaccine records and possibly using vaccination cards, or the “high-tech” way of putting the verification program online.

Ige said the state is working with tech companies CommonPass and CLEAR, who gather health-related information, to also capture the vaccine information for the program.

Both the governor and Doug Murdock, chief information officer of the state’s Enterprise Technology Services, said at a news conference last week that the future of the program depends on how quickly a vaccination database can be compiled.

The state Department of Health said Tuesday that it does have a database of vaccinations for those who received shots under State of Hawaii programs, which collect data through the Vaccine Administration Management System.

Maui Health, one of the major providers of vaccines on Maui, also has patients use the VAMS system to register for a vaccine.

However, the state does not have data on people who received their vaccines under federal government programs, such as Veterans Affairs and the Federal Retail Pharmacy program that covers CVS, Safeway, Walgreens and others. These organizations conduct their own record keeping, DOH said.

Ige said Tuesday that the vaccine passport would start with interisland travel initially because “we have the most control” compared to trans-Pacific and international travel and because the local vaccination rollout has been going well.

“Quite frankly, the vaccination program here is proceeding very smoothly,” he said.

As of Tuesday, about 32 percent of Hawaii’s total population had received at least one dose of the vaccine (state-counted doses only). Kauai County continues to lead the state with 42 percent, followed by 34 percent in both Maui and Hawaii counties and 31 percent in Honolulu County, according to DOH data.

“We are making good progress. I think that really does lead to lower infection rates,” Ige said.

He added that the state should receive enough vaccines to vaccinate most of Hawaii’s population by the end of summer.

By that time, “70 to 80 percent of our community will be vaccinated, which will allow us to reach herd immunity,” Ige said.

Even as the federal government recommended a pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines following six reports of blood clot issues among recipients, Ige said that the number of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines has grown.

About four weeks ago the state was receiving 45,000 to 50,000 vaccines; that has since climbed to about 70,000 to 80,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna a week.

And, more places, including private clinics, are now offering the vaccine, Ige said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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