The Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force has been aggressive in its vaccination campaign in the past several months to help the Marianas reach herd immunity.
As of July 22, 2021, the CNMI has 29,406 fully vaccinated individuals with a vaccination rate of 69.4%. We need 4,512 people to complete their vaccines for us to reach herd immunity or 80% of the 42,388 CNMI residents eligible for inoculation. The task force has designated more vaccination sites to make it easier for residents to get vaccinated. Recently, the task force, along with the Governor’s Office, Marianas Visitors Authority, and other private partners, launched Road to 80, a campaign that encourages unvaccinated people to “take their shot” for a chance to win raffle prizes.
And while the Road to 80 Facebook page has drawn overwhelming support from social media users, the real success of this campaign relies on the residents’ willingness to get vaccinated. The cash prizes and other incentives are great incentives, but the true benefits of reaching herd immunity are guarding against the harmful effects of COVID-19, protecting our loved ones, and the opportunity to rebuild our economy.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted during the White House COVID-19 briefing last week that fully vaccinated people are protected against severe COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalization, and death. In the same briefing, Walensky cited higher COVID-19 cases in states with lower vaccination rates. She also noted in an earlier report that 99.5% of all deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. were among unvaccinated individuals.
The Marianas’ herd immunity will also play a critical role in our efforts to revive our economy, which is highly dependent on the tourism industry. Last Saturday, the first group of visitors from South Korea, a familiarization tour group, arrived on Saipan a little over two weeks after South Korea and the Marianas signed the travel bubble agreement. South Korea chose the Marianas to be its first travel partner because we are one of the only few destinations that managed to control and mitigate its COVID-19 cases.
Let’s keep it that way, so when we reach an 80% vaccination rate and beyond, we can ease protocol requirements and be able to attract more visitors beyond South Korea, one of which is a key source market, Japan. We also have the potential of reopening our doors to tourists from Hong Kong, which has been re-included in the CNMI Visa Waiver Program. Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong are working hard on increasing their vaccination rates and by the time we have reached herd immunity, their inoculation percentage could be between 50% and 60%, making it more feasible and safer to welcome visitors from these three countries to our islands.
Regaining our source markets’ confidence in travel to enjoy the Marianas as a “Multi-Island Integrated Destination” is a crucial step toward reopening many local business establishments and getting our residents back to work. With the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs ending soon, there is a great sense of urgency to get people back to work. The deadline for PUA and FPUC applications is Sept. 7 and we haven’t heard if these temporary aids will be extended.
Extended or not, we have to be prepared and do something. The GCEA encourages all eligible residents to support #VaccinateCNMI and take the Road to 80. Together, We Can help our islands move forward and share the responsibility of keeping The Marianas safe, clearing the way toward our economic recovery.
For more information, visit the GCEA at cnmieconomy.com, on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy), or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Sablan is vice president of Triple J Enterprises, Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Marianas for all residents.