Vaccine passport plan set

  • ROTH

  • GREEN

  • HARA

  • IGE

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A woman waits with her luggage Tuesday after arriving at Hilo International Airport.

Interisland travelers who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to bypass quarantine or testing requirements starting May 11, provided they were inoculated in Hawaii.

The exemption, also known as a “vaccine passport,” was announced by Gov. David Ige during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. Ige said the decision was made in conjunction with Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char and the four county mayors.

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“Together, we’ve made a decision to start with the inter-county travel program for those vaccinated in the state of Hawaii, because we can verify the information and their vaccination status,” Ige said. “… It will allow us to validate the screening process necessary, and I think, most importantly, learn about what kinds of bottlenecks and delays it might inject into our screening process for interisland travel.”

Ige said he would be signing an emergency proclamation codifying what he called “inter-county exceptions” prior to May 11.

“Those requesting an exception must create an account in the Safe Travels Hawaii digital platform, complete the online forms, affirm that they are fully vaccinated and that the card is not fraudulent — and then upload their PDF or photocopy of the vaccination card,” Hara said. “Travelers must also have in their possession the CDC vaccination record card while traveling.”

Also accepted will be the Vaccine Administration Management System printout for those who registered via VAMS.

For now, the exemption from quarantine and testing only will apply to interisland travelers to and between neighbor islands and only to those who received their vaccinations in-state. There is no travel quarantine on Oahu for arriving travelers on flights from the neighbor islands.

Green, a Big Island physician, defined what the state considers “fully vaccinated.”

“If you’ve had both of the Pfizer or Moderna shots, or if you’ve had the Johnson &Johnson shot, and 14 days have passed to build up your immunity, to get your antibodies — then, you are fully vaccinated,” Green said.

The testing and quarantine exemption would start on the 15th day after the final inoculation.

Green said that as of Tuesday, 1,076,512 does of vaccine have been administered in Hawaii, and 35% of the population has received at least one dose.

He said that with more than 2.6 million travelers arriving in Hawaii since the Safe Travels coronavirus testing program began Oct. 15 — about 2 million visitors and 600,000 Hawaii residents — it’s proven the program is working.

“We have the lowest case rates and fatality rates in the U.S. by a big margin. And it’s because we’ve always done what we can to be safe,” he said.

According to Green, Hawaii is at “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic.

Although verification of out-of-state vaccinations is more difficult, Hara said the state hopes to implement a vaccine passport-type program for trans-Pacific travelers by summer.

“We’re continuing to work with companies that in the future may provide the same assurance of integrity for domestic and international travel,” Hara said. “Until then, trans-Pacific travelers will have the option of avoiding mandatory quarantine (by) following the Hawaii Safe Travel pre-test program requirements.

“Additionally, the Hawaii Department of Health closely monitors the vaccination rates and (coronavirus) cases around the world. The sooner we move to herd immunity, the sooner we can get to the new accepted norm. And my hope is that we sunset the Safe Travels program altogether.”

Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth said “the timing is right” to roll out the testing and quarantine exemptions.

“As you know, on Hawaii Island we’ve been doing secondary testing at the airports, and we recently started checking to see who’s vaccinated and letting those people who have been vaccinated be exempt from the secondary (post-arrival) testing,” Roth said. “As of this morning, the report that I got from Talmadge Magno, our Civil Defense administrator, was between 70% and 80% of the people coming into Hawaii County have been vaccinated already.

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“We’re islands separated by miles of ocean but connected by families, friends and a sense of community. This is really the time to do this.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.