Beginning May 11, island hopping will be easier for people who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated in Hawaii.
Gov. David Ige announced Tuesday that fully vaccinated interisland travelers won’t have to undergo the otherwise mandatory quarantine and testing procedures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. But trans-Pacific travelers will have to wait.
State officials hope to broaden the exemption to include travelers from the mainland and other countries but have not set a date, saying a phased approach was necessary to test the screening process.
“We anticipate it will happen this summer, but it depends on how quickly they (vendors) can connect the networks to get access to vaccination information for all the states,” Ige said at a press conference.
The decision came more than two weeks after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its travel guidance to give a green light to fully vaccinated travelers, although it stressed that other COVID-19 prevention measures including wearing masks and social distancing should be maintained.
Ige then established a framework for vaccine-related travel exemptions in an April 9 emergency proclamation but didn’t announce a date and details until Tuesday.
To qualify, travelers will be asked to upload valid vaccination documents to the already mandatory travel and health form online via the Hawaii Safe Travels program. Participants will qualify for the quarantine exemption two weeks after their final vaccine dose.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which received emergency authorization for use from the Food and Drug Administration late last year, are not considered fully effective until two weeks after the final dose, according to the CDC.
Hawaii and New York are the only two states that have pursued a vaccine verification system to date. Governors of several other states have publicly stated their opposition to them.
Those who are not vaccinated, including children younger than 16 who are not yet eligible, must still get a COVID-19 test prior to travel to opt out of the 10-day quarantine rule.
Private vendors including First Vitals, CommonPass and Clear’s Health Pass will work with the state of Hawaii to verify vaccine information.
The Hawaii Safe Travels portal will start accepting vaccine documents online starting May 7 for flights beginning May 11, according to Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjutant general who leads the state’s response as director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
Travelers must also carry their vaccination card, and if they lose it, they must replace it with their vaccine provider.
Forging the federal document would be subject to penalty, but processes to validate vaccines beyond Hawaii are still being worked out.
“Initially the cards will be validated by screeners at the airport,” Hara said. “At this moment the state is unable to verify individuals vaccinated out of the state.”
Hara said patient information included on the vaccine card will not be shared. The cards include the patient’s name, date of birth, date of vaccination, vaccination type, vaccine lot number and the location they were vaccinated.
Ige said Hawaii’s pilot program is also exploring ways to verify vaccinations have been received in other countries such as Japan, which was a major source of tourists to Hawaii before the pandemic hit.
Expanding the program to include domestic and international travelers will not be incorporated until validation processes are completed, he said.
Eventually, as the country reaches herd immunity, the vaccine exemption may no longer be necessary, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said.
“It may very well be a moot point if most of the country is vaccinated and we’re not concerned about widespread fraud,” Green said. “If we were to see large outbreaks of a variant that was disconcerting or that was evading the vaccine, we’d probably pause before moving on too aggressively, using vaccinations as our guide.”
COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness or death, but do not prevent all infections. State officials said people should expect to continue to wear masks and keep up social distancing and hygiene measures to prevent transmission.
More than a million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Hawaii to date.
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