Could Immunity Passports Follow COVID-19 Vaccinations?

Peter Russell

December 01, 2020

No proof of a COVID-19 vaccination will be needed for people in the UK to go to the pub, theatre, or sporting events, a senior minister insisted today.

Michael Gove appeared to contradict newly appointed vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi who said that the Government was "looking at the technology" for how people could prove they had been vaccinated.

Passport 'Not on the Cards'

Mr Gove told Times Radio: "A blanket immunity passport is not on the cards, no."

However, the Cabinet Office minister did admit that venues could make so-called 'immunity passports' a precondition of entry even if they were not required to do so by law.

The Government has not yet explained how proof of vaccination might be available to individuals.

On Monday, Mr Zahawi told the BBC: "We are looking at the technology. And, of course, a way of people being able to inform their GP that they have been vaccinated.

"But, also, I think you'll probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system — as they have done with the [Test and Trace] app."

Dr Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at the University of Reading, likened proposals for a COVID-19 vaccination certificate to those required for some other diseases. "Proof of yellow fever vaccination is essential to travel from certain parts of the world where this virus is present, to places without yellow fever," he told the Science Media Centre.

Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said one major problem for any vaccination passport was that little was known about how long immunity from a vaccine might last.

Also, "many in the community, especially younger people, may not get the opportunity to be vaccinated in the first few months after rollout", he added.

Prof Gino Martini, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: "It’s important to understand the vaccine trials have only proved they reduce the likelihood of developing COVID-19 and ease the severity of symptoms.

"It’s not yet known how they affect transmission."

He said developers would also need to address the possibility that immunity passports might be forged.

Civil Liberties

Human rights group Liberty said it was unclear how privacy would be protected by an immunity passport, and could pave the way for a national ID system.

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns, said "Once immunity passports have been created their use could be expanded resulting in people who don't have immunity potentially being blocked from essential public services, work, or housing – with the most marginalised among us hardest hit."

Dr Ana Beduschi, from the University of Exeter Law School, said: "Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights."

Dr Beduschi, who is the principal investigator of a project on digital health passports, added: "These passports build on sensitive personal health information to create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status, which can then be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights they may enjoy.

"Ministers must strike an adequate balance between protecting the rights and freedoms of all individuals and safeguarding public interests while managing the effects of the pandemic."