A report published by the Science in Emergencies Tasking: COVID-19 (SET-C) group at the Royal Society has drawn attention to a series of basic issues that need to be addressed before a vaccine passport system could be introduced.

The SET-C Steering Committee is composed of 13 Professors across top UK universities and is chaired by Professor Peter Bruce FRS, The Royal Society. 

A primary concern remains that any passport should be able to show if the individual is protected from the virus and will not transmit it. The passport would also need to show vaccine efficacy, international acceptance and if it is effective against new and emerging variants. Finally, it would need to meet legal and ethical standards.

All 12 criteria proposed by the panel are as follows:

  • Meet benchmarks for COVID-19 immunity
  • Accommodate differences between vaccines in their efficacy, and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants
  • Be internationally standardised
  • Have verifiable credentials
  • Have defined uses
  • Be based on a platform of interoperable technologies
  • Be secure for personal data
  • Be portable
  • Be affordable to individuals and governments
  • Meet legal standards
  • Meet ethical standards
  • Have conditions of use that are understood and accepted by the passport holders

Director of the Leverhulme Center for Demographic Science and one of the lead authors of the report, Professor Mills, says, “Understanding what a vaccine passport could be used for is a fundamental question. Is it a passport to allow international travel or could it be used domestically to allow holders greater freedoms?”

Professor Mills further stated, “International standardisation and following the lead of the WHO 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.”

Professor Dye, Professor of Epidemiology in Oxford’s Department of Zoology and another lead author, added: “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.”

Professor Dye continued that “huge progress has been made in many of these areas but we are 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.”

Image Credit: ZElsb/CC BY-SA 4.0

For Cherwell, maintaining editorial independence is vital. We are run entirely by and for students. To ensure independence, we receive no funding from the University and are reliant on obtaining other income, such as advertisements. Due to the current global situation, such sources are being limited significantly and we anticipate a tough time ahead – for us and fellow student journalists across the country.

So, if you can, please consider donating. We really appreciate any support you’re able to provide; it’ll all go towards helping with our running costs. Even if you can't support us monetarily, please consider sharing articles with friends, families, colleagues - it all helps!

Thank you!