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expert reaction to vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi’s comments about a system where individuals may require proof of vaccination

The Health minister Nadhim Zahawi, who will oversee rollout of the Covid vaccine in England, has said that hospitality and entertainment venues may insist on seeing proof of vaccination.


Prof Gino Martini, Chief Scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said:

“So-called ‘vaccine passports’ could be issued by pharmacists providing the Covid jab. It’s important secure technology is used so passports can’t be forged if you haven’t had the jab, but ideally you’d be able to access it via your mobile phone.

“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.

“What’s needed right now is a comprehensive vaccination programme that works for the benefit of all.”


Prof Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics, and Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford, said:

“It is unethical NOT to offer immunity passports. The sole ground for restricting liberty in a liberal society is when a person represents a threat to others. That is the justification for quarantine, isolation and lockdown. But if immunity reduces transmission, those with immunity represent NO threat to others. It is outrageous that their liberty is being infringed.

“It is like imprisonment without just cause.

“Additionally, if we don’t grant freedoms to the naturally immune, it will be difficult to ethically justify giving freedoms to the vaccinated, unless there are differences on transmissibility.



Dr Ana Beduschi, from the University of Exeter Law School, who is the principal investigator of a project on digital health passports, funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research & Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19, 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. 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.”


Prof Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“When Mr Zahawi says “And, of course, a way of people being able to inform their GP that they have been vaccinated” this is extremely important and major efforts have been made to ensure that vaccination status gets back to the GP record. This will be vital for carrying out surveillance of the vaccine for any extremely rare adverse effects, as well as checking on its effectiveness in preventing disease when used in actual practice rather than in a controlled trial.

“’immunity passports’ is an idea that has been suggested, but has problems. 1) it will be the very elderly and vulnerable who are vaccinated first and they do not access businesses a lot.; health workers might find it useful. 2) we do not know how long immunity will last 3) many in the community, especially younger people, may not get the opportunity to be vaccinated in the first few months after rollout.

“Whether the gains will be greater than the problems is unknown.”


Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health, University College London, said:

 “Vaccine passports or similar are not a new idea. One of the many initiatives which successfully eradicated smallpox was the requirement for a vaccination in order to travel. Today, when travelling from and to places at risk of yellow fever, proof of vaccination is sometimes required. To enter some countries, proof of a polio vaccination is still needed.

 “One difference here is proof of vaccination for daily, local activities–a debate which is long-standing such as mandatory MMR vaccinations to attend school. This issue was reinvigorated last year after a measles outbreak at London schools and some places do have mandatory measles vaccinations for children attending school.

 “A proviso is if it turns out that there might be some certified medical reasons for being unable to take the vaccine. A system of verifiable exceptions would be needed. As the minister indicates, for people who choose not to take a vaccine, then they can also choose not to participate in activities which demand it.”


Dr Alexander Edwards, Associate Professor in Biomedical Technology, Reading School of Pharmacy, University of Reading, said:

 “Evidence of vaccination is already required for certain diseases and situations. 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. In workplaces where human blood is handled (e.g. hospitals, labs) staff usually need proof of hepatitis B vaccination for their own safety- this is normal occupational health.

 “However we have a lot more evidence about these other diseases, and so it is hard to see how we could bring in something similar for COVID-19 any time soon. For example, although we now have some exciting data showing that people can be protected from infection, we don’t have enough data yet to know exactly how well the new vaccines prevent spread. Nor can we yet know how long protection lasts – the clinical trials simply haven’t had enough time to measure this.

 “The initial trial reports show extensive safety and initial protection data to support regulatory review, but this probably won’t be enough information to develop a vaccine certificate system.”   (at 15:55)



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



Declared interests

Prof Stephen Evans: “No conflicts of interest.  I am funded (one day per week) by LSHTM.  They get funding from various companies, including Astra Zeneca and GSK but I am not funded by them, I have no involvement in obtaining funding from them and I am not an investigator on any grants obtained from them.  I am the statistician to the ‘meta-Data Safety and Monitoring Board’ for CEPI.  I am paid for my attendance at those meetings and will be paid expenses for travel if that occurs.”

None others received.

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