Gov. Ige mulls vaccination mandate

  • IGE

Gov. David Ige said he has considered requiring state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but has no definite plans to impose such a mandate.

During a livestreamed interview Monday, Ige said he has considered imposing a vaccine mandate for state employees whereby employees would be required to have completed a COVID-19 vaccine regimen as a condition of employment.

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Ige said the state imposes several other vaccine mandates and has for many years. For example, he said, the state requires that students receive several vaccinations — including vaccines against polio, measles, chickenpox and others — in order to attend school.

The state could impose a similar COVID-19 immunization requirement for its own employees, but Ige suggested it is too early to determine whether one would be effective.

“We’ll be looking at any kind of (vaccine) mandate in the context of the public health requirement,” Ige said. “We’ll consider it, depending on … the virus activity we see in the general population once we get to herd immunity.”

If, after a sufficient percentage of Hawaii residents have been vaccinated, COVID-19 is no longer effectively spreading through the population, Ige said a vaccine mandate might not be necessary.

On the other hand, Ige added that the mandate also depends on how effective the vaccine is long-term.

So far, it is unclear just how long the COVID-19 vaccines will keep the general population protected.

The University of Hawaii is similarly considering a COVID-19 immunization mandate for students returning to campus in the fall.

Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said in April that UH is one of several Hawaii organizations considering its own vaccine mandate, but UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said in April and again on Monday that UH has made no definite plans.

“There’s still a lot of things that would have to happen first,” Meisenzahl said, adding that the determination depends on large part on what the state decides to do.

Meanwhile, on the Big Island, Mayor Mitch Roth has not discussed the possibility of a vaccine mandate for county employees, said Roth’s spokesman Cyrus Johnasen.

Even if a vaccine mandate is a long way off, Ige said that the state’s existing mask mandate won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Despite new recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which announced last week that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outside, except at crowded events — Ige said the state mask mandate will remain in effect.

“When we looked at the CDC guidance, although it seems like a big change, it really isn’t all that different from our current mask mandate,” Ige said.

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“Our mandate requires people to wear their masks outside, except if they can maintain 6 feet of physical distancing. … We thought it would be simpler to maintain the current mask mandate and then we would change it as more and more people get vaccinated.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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