Vaccine passports for foreign holidays ‘feasible but cannot be introduced yet’

Nilima Marshall, PA Science Reporter
·3-min read

Covid-19 vaccine passports that would allow people to go on foreign holidays are “feasible” but a lack of a set standards across countries means they cannot be introduced yet, experts have said.

In a report published on Friday in the Royal Society, the scientists also said more information is needed on the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines in preventing infection and transmission, as well as duration of the protective immunity they provide, in order to establish how long a passport might be valid.

The Government has repeatedly insisted that there are no plans to introduce vaccine passports for activities like going to the pub.

The experts stressed a “broader discussion” was needed about some of the key aspects of the document, such as the need for legal and ethical standards, alongside conversations about data privacy and discrimination.

Professor Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford and a lead author of the report, said: “Understanding what a vaccine passport could be used for is a fundamental question – is it literally a passport to allow international travel or could it be used domestically to allow holders greater freedoms?

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

“The intended use will have significant implications across a wide range of legal and ethical issues that need to be fully explored and could inadvertently discriminate or exacerbate existing inequalities.

“International standardisation is one of the criteria we believe essential, but we have already seen some countries introducing vaccine certificates related to travel or linked to quarantine or attending events.

“We need a broader discussion about multiple aspects of a vaccine passport, from the science of immunity through to data privacy, technical challenges and the ethics and legality of how it might be used.”

She told journalists at a media briefing: “We really need to clearly define how will they be used.

“Otherwise there is a risk that they could unjustly discriminate in hiring, attending events, insurance companies housing applications – you can think of many examples.

“And there is also additional concerns about whether the vaccine data – the vaccination data – could be linked for unintended reasons, such as immigration authorities.”

The report sets out 12 key points that need to be satisfied in order to deliver a vaccine passport.

These are:

– Meeting benchmarks for Covid-19 immunity

– Accommodating differences between vaccines in their efficacy and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants

– Being internationally standardised

– Having verifiable credentials

– Having defined uses

– Being based on a platform of interoperable technologies – where the passports must meet certain standards that allow different systems to work together across organisational and technical boundaries

– Being secure for personal data

– Being portable

– Being affordable to individuals and governments

– Meeting legal standards

– Meeting ethical standards

– Having conditions of use that are understood and accepted by the passport holders

Christopher Dye, professor of epidemiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford and one of the lead authors on the report, said: “An effective vaccine passport system that would allow the return to pre-Covid-19 activities, including travel, without compromising personal or public health, must meet a set of demanding criteria – but it is feasible.

“First there is the science of immunity, then the challenges of something working across the world that is durable, reliable and secure.

“There are the legal and ethical issues and if you can crack all that, you have to have the trust of the people.”

He said “huge progress” has been made towards addressing some of the challenges, but added: “We are not there yet”.

Prof Dye said: “At the most basic level, we are still gathering data on exactly how effective each vaccine is in preventing infection and transmission and on how long the immunity will last.”