UCL News


Opinion: Vaccine passports - pilot events will help us understand spread of virus

6 April 2021

Vaccine passports for large pilot events will help us understand to what extent the Covid-19 vaccine prevents people from carrying and transmitting the virus, as well as flagging any issues with the passports themselves, says Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery (UCL Laws).

Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery

The Government seems to have moved away from the idea of a universal vaccine passport that gives access to all areas of our lives to those who are lucky enough to hold one but at the expense of excluding those who don't from social activities. Rather, it seems that they are considering how to make it reasonably safe to return to large scale events.

Reports that the Government plans to pilot certification are to be welcomed. That may help us understand whether making entry dependent on certification of vaccination or natural immunity (after recovery from Covid) reduces the transmission that might otherwise occur between fans at sporting events. This is important as we still do not know how well the vaccines prevent people carrying and transmitting the virus. Unless vaccination significantly reduces unwitting transmission by those who do not realise they carry the virus, you would be unwise to assume that you are safe when someone shows you their certificate.

Pilots may also shed light on many of the concerns that have been raised.

Can certificates easily be forged so that people can pass themselves off as safe when in fact they present a risk? Can we be certain that the person showing their certificate is entitled to it without creating a national identity card? Can a certification scheme be designed that can be used by everyone who needs to, or will you have to have a modern mobile phone? Might certificates actually increase the risks of infection because people develop a false sense of security and forget to take precautions such as keeping their distance, handwashing, and wearing their face coverings?

It seems businesses won’t be required to introduce certification. But this does leave open the possibility that some might opt to do so, or that such a requirement may be introduced in the future.

It seems that tests are to be an integral part of the processes that will be piloted. That goes some way to addressing the risk of discrimination. It provides a way to get entry to events for those who have not yet had their jabs and those who have been advised not to have the vaccine. But it means that the certification system will be complex.

The commitment that certificates will not be required for public transport or essential shops is important. It provides reassurance that the aim is to help us all to return to more normal lives, not just a privileged few.

This article was originally published in The Express on 4 April 2021.