This isn’t over yet, as much as everyone wishes it to be. But Hawaii is close to an important breakthrough in putting COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror, at least for the islands.
Officials, from the governor on down, surely hoped this tantalizing fact, enhanced by other incentives, would spur residents to keep their eye on the prize for a sufficiently high vaccination rate. An end to most or all pandemic restrictions could come soon.
That outcome, while well within this state’s reach, is anything but guaranteed. And the currently sagging vaccination rates can’t be laid at the feet of government, the health-care industry or any other institution. It lies entirely within the power of the people to correct that, and it needs to happen right away.
Just over a week ago, Gov. David Ige generated a lot of excitement by unveiling the #HIGotVaccinated sweepstakes, open to anyone completing their shots.
He also announced that travel would become easier for the fully immunized, starting Tuesday, when those vaccinated in Hawaii could get their quarantine waiver without any COVID testing, simply by showing their shots record.
Efforts to make immunization more accessible also are accelerating, aided by the state’s business and nonprofit private partners. The Memorial Day weekend was one opportunity, statewide, to roll out mobile vaccine clinics at malls, shopping centers, restaurants and a beach park.
There’s still room to hope for another vaccination surge. Anecdotal reports show signs of an uptick in response at some clinics, but it really needs to accelerate.
Hawaii’s immunization program numbers peaked in April, when the state was putting about 32,000 shots in arms each day. That has rocketed downward to about 3,100 doses daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If that rate doesn’t pick up significantly, hitting the benchmarks Ige laid out may take until October — at least a couple months longer than hoped.
That ought to jolt people into a reality check — and get more on board.
There are certainly some residents who will continue to opt out, either because they have a health condition precluding vaccines or because their objections are based on deeply held religious beliefs. Others hold back due to a more philosophical opposition to vaccines, especially those with only emergency clearance currently for public use.
Nationally, the firmly vaccine-resistant comprise a sector estimated at 15% of the population, not large enough to impede the state’s public immunization goals.
There are those who suggest the governor should not insist that 70% of the entire population be fully vaccinated before he would lift all COVID-19 restrictions. The argument is that at least the younger children — those under 12, for whom a vaccine has not been approved even for emergency use — should not be counted in calculating the percentage. They are among the least vulnerable to serious illness from an infection.
That is true, and the state may reach the point when Ige may need to lower the bar. But doing so would weaken the incentive to get more of the population immunized, leaving more people prey to whatever more powerful virus variants could still emerge as the pandemic lingers.
And Ige would be doing so without full knowledge of long-term COVID effects on those of any age, because that’s still an unknown. Taking that escape hatch is not ideal, and it should not be necessary.
Instead Hawaii residents themselves should act to be immunized, protecting themselves, their families and the community at large. In the end, the power, and the responsibility, lie within the hands of the people.