Vaccine passports, travel protocols – What we need to know

As more people get vaccinated for COVID-19, rules are changing about what is safe and what is not. In a recent Q&A written by MUSC Health System’s Bryce Donovan, Dr. Danielle Scheurer, MUSC Health System chief quality officer, answered some hot-button questions.
Q. Coronavirus cases are going up again. In nine states over the past two weeks, virus cases have risen more than 40%. Michigan led the way with a 133% increase. In light of that, President Biden is calling for reinstating mask mandates. How do you feel South Carolina is doing on that front?
A. On the whole, I think our state has been doing pretty well, so I guess I was a little surprised by the “back to work” mandate issued recently. I think businesses have to make individual decisions based on their unique local conditions – you know, things like local epidemiology, open day cares, etc., so a blanket mandate can be really hard to conform to.
Q. New York has done the digital passport thing we’ve talked about. How long before South Carolina – or better yet, the U.S. – rolls out its own version? 
A. I think it’s not too far out on the horizon. They are becoming more and more popular in many states, so I suspect it’s not long before we have one here as well. 
Q. It looks like that by June, airlines will go back to putting passengers in every seat. How spooky is that, or will we be in a much better spot by then, making domestic less scary?
A. Air travel should still be approached with some reservations, as there is no way to socially distance. Airlines are also likely going to pursue some combination of vaccine passports and/or negative rapid testing in order for passengers to board a flight. Coupled with the fact that most of these airplanes have really good air filtration systems, I’d say that if you’re smart it should be OK. 
Q. Italy is now forcing health care workers to get vaccinated. Is this something we as a country might be forced to do in the future?
A. That is just such a thorny subject. I saw a survey published in The New York Times last week that focused on vaccine hesitancy. In it they asked health care workers if they were forced to be vaccinated, would they do it or quit their jobs. Sixteen percent of the people surveyed said they would quit. So it’s really all about risk ratios and how organizations make those types of decisions. Hospitals have to ask themselves if they are willing to risk a 16% departure to get to that goal. I think the public expects – regardless of their own personal beliefs – that health care workers should protect themselves so they can protect their patients. That’s certainly my feeling. Patients have to trust us, and in this pandemic era, what better way to gain that trust than by getting vaccinated?
Q. What do you think is the best approach for getting vaccine skeptics to say “yes?” One-on-one talks with a trusted person? Money? Days off work? Allowing for greater freedoms (less masking/social distancing) for those who get it?
A. What the literature points to right now seems to be that the most convincing way to get people to get vaccinated is through a trusted colleague or community member. Having them – it could be a family member, a pastor, a small-town mayor, that kind of person – get vaccinated and then show the skeptic that they are fine. That seems to be the most impactful. When somebody whose opinion you value says it’s OK, that seems to work best. As far as incentives go, I do think some allowance of freedoms might point people toward getting it. This gets into the concept of passports, allowing those with them to attend larger gatherings, take advantage of air travel without testing, stuff like that. And I think it’s good that the CDC is finally saying to people who have been fully vaccinated that they can actually do more.
Article was compiled by Bryce Donovan, MUSC. Have a question you’d like answered? Email it to with the subject line “Vaccine Q.”

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