After nine months of attempting to fend off the spread of COVID-19 while armed with infection testing and basic public hygiene protocols, this week’s delivery of the first trays of vaccine rightly stirs high hopes for 2021 bringing more restoration of pre-pandemic life and economic recovery.
Speaking Wednesday on “Spotlight Hawaii,” the Star-Advertiser’s webcast, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said it appears possible that 70% of Hawaii’s population could receive the two-dose vaccination by July Fourth. But an Independence Day celebration tied to reaching a “herd immunity” milestone hinges on ability to execute smooth distribution and further rally public confidence.
The start of the state’s distribution — top priority for health-care workers with direct exposure to coronavirus patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities — is being greeted with a mix of enthusiasm and relief. Many people in these groups have witnessed the potentially devastating effects of the disease, and trust that vaccine benefit outweighs risk.
As the state Department of Health (DOH) leads the rollout, it must simultaneously ramp up messaging about the vaccines by providing clear information about safety and access in multiple languages and on multiple media platforms. Messaging with videos featuring Green, trusted high-profile advocates and diverse leaders getting shots could prod leery residents to follow suit.
On a national level, it’s encouraging that recent polling finds that since federal regulators have authorized one vaccine for emergency use — and are poised to green-light another — Americans seem to be growing less reluctant about inoculation. About 71% of respondents to a survey conducted in late November and early December said they would get a vaccine, up from 63% in an August/September poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Surely bolstering confidence is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent assessments of high effectiveness in shielding against infection, and rare serious reactions to the vaccines.
Hawaii’s first phase of distribution is expected to wrap up with specified groups of essential workers and kupuna receiving shots. A second phase targets people with chronic disease, and a third will focus on younger and healthy adults. Throughout the effort, transparency in detailing progress — and setbacks — is essential.
The DOH must provide the public with a running scorecard that includes the count of doses received in the islands, where they’re delivered, and tallies for how many people got their first and follow-up shots. Since doses must be administered within several weeks of arrival, easy-to-access information about clinic schedules is needed.
While vaccination will not be mandatory, wary residents could be further persuaded by Green’s proposal to waive quarantine requirements for travelers who can prove that they have received both doses, starting Feb. 1. He maintains that for those fully vaccinated, “the likelihood of infection is so low that I don’t see the reasons to put people through” pre-travel testing.
This proposal, which could boost further revival of domestic trans-Pacific travel, would likely add another layer to the Safe Travels Hawaii program — one that would require travelers to present verifiable proof-of- inoculation. Should the state offer this waiver, it must devise a system that avoids repeating missteps in Safe Travels’ mid-October launch that resulted in long lines at our airports and traveler confusion.
Widespread adoption of vaccination is expected to be key in winning the war against COVID-19. But the rollout will take many months — so in the foreseeable future, we must also hold firm on mask-wearing, physical distancing and other protocols. By now, it should be clear to all that complacency is an enemy.