comscore Editorial: Move ahead with vaccine passports | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Editorial: Move ahead with vaccine passports

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clears the way for fully-vaccinated Americans to travel domestically without having to undergo testing or quarantine — delivering welcome promise for Hawaii’s tourism-related industries in need of eased restrictions. It’s also good news for our fast-growing count of vaccinated residents who want greater freedom to visit family members or take vacations.

But it’s disappointing that Hawaii — among the states enduring the pandemic’s hardest economic hits — is not poised for swift alignment with the CDC’s recommendations. Gov. David Ige said Monday that a realistic start date for lifting the state’s interisland quarantine restriction would be nearly three months down the road — the July 4 weekend, when most everyone here age 16 and older will long have had an opportunity to get vaccinated.

As evidence mounts of the vaccines’ protection against COVID-19 infection, progress toward herd immunity is a confidence-booster for low-risk travel. However, installing standardized “vaccine passport” technology to help navigate Hawaii’s changing travel rules as safely and efficiently as possible appears to be a tall order.

Hawaii is working with two companies, CommonPass and CLEAR, to establish digital documentation for vaccinated individuals who qualify for less-restrictive travel entry. The state, though, can’t leave the timeline merely at vague estimates; it should now move forward by rolling out interim measures.

As a short-term option for less-restrictive interisland travel, state leaders and others should follow up on Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s call to accept vaccine cards, which could be checked against ID. While such a move is not risk-free, Green has noted that fraudulently representing vaccinations fetches a high penalty. Also, if vaccine delivery stays on its robustly increasing course, by early May, Hawaii will have more than 1 million shots in arms.

Among the risks tied to delaying a firm push forward is a drop in visitor traffic. Tourism industry officials have a point in noting that travelers who have so far accepted Hawaii’s pre-testing protocol, which can be cumbersome, are now likely to be less tolerant due to the new CDC guidance, which also recommends other precautions, including mask-wearing.

Fewer travelers means a likely setback in recovery strides, possibly costing the already cash-strapped state tourism revenue and jobs.

The European Union has unveiled its plan for vaccine passports, which allow citizens who can certify that they have been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19 to cross E.U. borders without quarantine requirements. The United States, meanwhile, is not expected to follow suit. White House officials have said that there will be no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.

On the state level, so far, only New York has introduced a credential. It recently began using its IBM-developed app, Excelsior Pass, which pulls from the state’s vaccine registry to confirm vaccination status in order to attend certain events or enter venues. An event venue usher, for example, could use a smartphone to scan a concertgoer’s code.

As this technology-focused effort takes hold on the mainland and here, transparency is needed in regard to privacy policy — assurance that collected data will be maintained in a secure manner and won’t be used for sales or marketing purposes or shared with a third party. Plus, for the sake of equitable access, old-school workarounds will be needed for people without smartphones.

Hawaii is still vulnerable to case-count surges that could quickly overwhelm health care resources. A vaccine passport would serve as both a necessary layer of public health protection and a much-needed means to ease travel restrictions.

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