Significant challenges need to be overcome before Covid-19 ‘vaccine passports’ could be created and become a practical way of facilitating increased domestic and international travel.
This is according to a report released on Friday by an expert panel led by UK-based Oxford University professors, Melinda Mills and Chris Dye. It outlines a dozen issues which must be addressed before passports can be introduced.
The report has been published by the Science in Emergencies Tasking: Covid-19 (SET-C) group at the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences. It says a series of fundamental issues need to be addressed before a passport system could be introduced.
Must reveal if the holder won’t transmit virus
Of foremost concern is that any passport should clearly reveal if the holder is protected from illness and unable to transmit the virus. Passports would also need to show vaccine efficacy, international acceptance and if it is effective against new or emerging variants.
In short, emphasise the researchers, vaccine passports would need to be secure, legal and ethical in order to be effective.
“Understanding what a vaccine passport could be used for is a fundamental question,” said Professor Mills, who is Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at Oxford University.
“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.”
Passport must meet demanding set of criteria
Professor Dye, who is Professor of Epidemiology in Oxford’s Department of Zoology, noted: “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 legal and ethical issues that need to be satisfied too.”
Professor Mills said international standardisation and following the lead of the World Health Organization (WHO) was one of the essential criteria, but the researchers had already seen some countries introducing vaccine certificates related to travel, or linked to quarantine or attending events.
A broader discussion on passport is still needed
“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.
Is it a passport to allow international travel, or could it be used domestically to allow holders greater freedoms?”
Professor Dye maintains that huge progress has been made in many of these areas, but that the world is not yet in the best position to use vaccine passports.
“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,” he stated.