Vaccine passports may be needed for the long term, experts suggest

Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent
·4-min read

Vaccine passports may be necessary for the long term and more neutral language needs to be used when discussing them, an expert has said.

On Wednesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that the NHS app will be used by holidaymakers in England to prove their coronavirus status to destination countries.

The app, which is currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions, will display evidence that someone has been vaccinated or recently tested, he said.

But experts says any form of certification may be needed for the foreseeable future.

Professor Christopher Dye, professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford, told the Science and Technology Committee the language around any vaccine passports or certificates needs to be carefully considered.

He said: “I think we need to discuss this in terms of neutral language and the term passport and certificate has been difficult.

“So, a word like ‘pass’ is more neutral, but we should try to have a conversation in neutral terms.”

He added: “I think the question about using passes is a question of whether we now have the option to explore those greater freedoms that vaccination gives us and that there isn’t too much of a downside, in terms of discrimination – let’s use that word as others have used.”

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Prof Dye was asked whether vaccine passports might be a short-term measure or if they may be around for some time.

He told MPs: “I think vaccine passports, or certificates, passes, whatever you want to call them, are going to be a very helpful short-term measure – I think they’re going to be in place for the long term as well.

“For one reason, on the latter part, Covid is not going to go away, and it’s going to be endemic around the world – it is going to keep resurfacing.”

He added: “I think they’re here for the long term, we’re finding our way forwards on these both internationally and domestically, but I think the system is going to settle down nationally and internationally into a long-term form of certification and protection.”

As well as considering vaccine passports for international travel, the Government is trialling Covid-19 status certificates domestically.

The temporary certification scheme requires event attendees to be vaccinated, have natural immunity, or present a negative Covid-19 test within a set period of time prior to arrival.

One such country where a similar system is in place is Israel, which currently has low Covid-19 infection rates, has relaxed a number of restrictions, and has vaccinated a large majority of its adult population.

Ran Balicher, director of Clalit Research Institute and professor of public health, Ben-Gurion University, Israel, told the Science and Technology Committee it was difficult to say which measures had been directly responsible for the fall in cases, whether it be vaccines or green passes for specific settings.

He said: “The key aim of the green pass in Israel is to provide for those people who are interested in participating in activities within high-risk settings, especially high-risk indoor settings, is to provide them with an opportunity for a safe participation in such an event.”

He added: “So, especially for some of the people within the highest risk groups, when they go about and participate in such an event that takes place in an indoor setting, there is a residual meaningful risk that needs to be tackled.

“The green pass rules allow these people to go into a restaurant, to go into a concert hall, to participate in some of these high-risk activities with the lowest risk possible.”

A green pass in Israel is an app that requires people to enter details, such as when they last tested negative for Covid-19, and then grants them a pass to enter certain settings like restaurants.

Prof Balicher said Israel’s reopening economy had been a gradual process with the highest-risk settings opening last.

He added there had been no outbreaks in the settings the green pass had been deployed in, even when there was a significant number of daily infections in the country.

Asked when he thought such a pass may stop being required, Prof Balicher said: “At this point we cannot put a sunset clause and we think that this will be probably one of the last things to survive in the overall recommendations that we have.”