The Ada Lovelace Institute is monitoring the development of vaccine passports and COVID status apps in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Vaccine passports and COVID status apps are systems for verifiably sharing private health data relevant to COVID-19 which could be used to stream society and impose differential lockdown restrictions. This might mean limiting individual access to work, insurance, hospitality and leisure, and other parts of life, based on an individual’s health or risk of COVID-19 infection or transmission.
This page seeks to outline what we know so far about the different forms of vaccine passports and COVID status apps, and the governance of those systems, as they emerge around the world and will be updated on a regular basis.
This page is current as of 5 April 2021. If you are aware of any updates please let us know by contacting Hannah Kitcher via email@example.com.
What place should COVID-19 vaccine passports have in society?
Findings from a rapid expert deliberation to consider the risks and benefits of the potential roll-out of digital vaccine passports
World Health Organisation
As of 24 April 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned the use of immunity certificates, issuing a scientific brief on the subject. The brief states that: ‘At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate.’ People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission.’
On 7 October 2020, Estonia and the WHO announced they had agreed to collaborate on developing a digitally enhanced International Certificate of Vaccination, a ‘smart yellow card’ to help strengthen the effectiveness of the COVAX initiative, which will provide COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.
On 2 December 2020, the WHO published call for nominations of experts to contribute to the Smart Vaccination Certificate technical specifications and standards, with a first meeting of experts in early January. They also set out the Smart Vaccination Certificate consortium. The consortium is intended to bring together experts to focus on defining specifications and standards for a digital vaccination certificate that would serve current and future requirements, toward the dual purpose of:
- Facilitating monitoring of national COVID-19 vaccination programs
- Supporting cross-border uses architected for a potential future in which the COVID-19 vaccine would be included in an updated version of the International Health Regulations.
The consortium’s stated goals are to:
- Achieve consensus on common standards and governance for security, authentication, privacy, and data exchange;
- Strategically align efforts and collaboration to manage lessons learned and commonalities;
- Establish guidance for member states to facilitate informed adoption; and
- Foster shared and trusted global vaccine certificate architecture with digital solutions that support the COVID-19 vaccine use case and establish foundational services for other health services.
The objectives of the consortium will be to:
- Publish recommended standards for security, authentication, privacy, and data exchange for outlined use cases;
- Demonstrate and learn from successes and challenges (via demos, proofs of concept, and implementations);
- Identify and curate multiple tools that conform to security, authentication, privacy, and data exchange standards identified and recommended by the consortium.
- Develop appropriate guidance detailing use cases, standards, and best practices; and
- Provide guidance to member states to ensure they can adopt and support digitised vaccination certificate solution.
The anticipated outputs of the consortium include:
- A governance framework and common architecture for the issuance and verification of vaccination certificates;
- Established interoperability standards with a common taxonomy and specifications for certification; and
- A vetted suite of digital solutions identified that adhere to the defined specifications, interoperability standards and architecture.
The (draft) shared principles include:
- Everyone has the right to obtain and hold a smart vaccination certificate;
- The smart vaccination certificate should not be increasing health inequities or increasing the digital divide;
- Every smart vaccination certificate should be recognised and verifiable by any trusted authorities;
- Minimum data collected and appropriately shared – only data required for the purposes of vaccinations should be required;
- There is no ‘one size fits all’ or ‘one solution to rule them all’. Given how diverse our world is, this effort focuses on ensuring that each smart vaccination certificate solution is able to meet the public health needs of each WHO member state as well as the needs of individuals around the world.
- Supporting local and sustainable development. The consortium is intended to reach consensus on a minimum set of requirements that would allow each smart vaccination certificate solution to meet the needs in their country while still being usable in others. This, we believe, will enable member states to have a fair choice of solution without excluding products from any institution.
On 15 January 2021, the sixth meeting of the WHO’s Emergency Committee on COVID-19 recommended that the WHO Secretariat:
- Rapidly develop and disseminate the WHO policy position on the legal, ethical, scientific, and technological considerations related to requirements for proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travellers, in accordance with relevant International Health Regulations provisions.
- Coordinate with relevant stakeholders the development of standards for digital documentation of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, that can be implemented on interoperable digital platforms. This should include vaccination status in preparation for widespread vaccine access.
- Encourage States Parties to implement coordinated, time-limited, risk-based, and evidence-based approaches for health measures in relation to international travel.
They also recommended that states:
- At the present time, do not introduce requirements of proof of vaccination or immunity for international travel as a condition of entry as there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission and limited availability of vaccines. Proof of vaccination should not exempt international travellers from complying with other travel risk reduction measures.
The African Union Commission and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), as part of their Trusted Travel initiative, are developing a My COVID Pass tool to simplify verification of public health documentation for travellers during exit and entry across borders. The Trusted Travel initiative will also include an Africa CDC ‘mutual recognition protocol’ for COVID-19 testing and test results, and vaccination certificates (including yellow fever and a future COVID-19 vaccine).
The CEO of Qantas stated on 23 November 2020 that the airline will be requiring proof of vaccination for international travel to and from Australia once vaccines are available.
On 30 December 2020, Paul Kelly, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, stated they are looking closely at the idea of a vaccine or immunity passport. However, at the moment vaccination will not offer any exceptions to restrictions such as the 14-day quarantine.
On 25 January 2021, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Education Minister Alan Tudge said digital vaccine certificates could allow international students to attended Australian universities without a need for quarantine, provided effective vaccines were available. However, the Guardian reported that Prime Minister Scott Morrison later that day said proposals for a vaccination passport for the return of international students were premature and that he didn’t want to create false hopes.
On 7 February 2021, Stuart Robert, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and for Government Services, announced that records from the Australian Immunisation Register will form the basis of the vaccination certificate for all Australia citizens and visa holders. People will be able to access their certificate via Medicare Express Plus, myGov, or in a paper record form from Services Australia.
Minister Robert said that the national government will let state and territorial governments decide whether these certificates can be used to restrict domestic travel and access to hospitality. He said the Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister are working with unions and other groups to look at the issue and work to determine the scope of restrictions.
Minister Robert also stated that Australia is working with international counterparts on developing a common framework for international vaccination certificates. He stated that international travel authorities are looking at applications from IBM, Clear, CommonPass and others.
On 17 February 2021, Bahrain has added proof of vaccination to its BeAware contact tracing app. Two weeks after users have received their second vaccine dose, the app will display a green shield alongside the person’s name, date of birth, nationality and which vaccine was received. The app also includes a QR code which can be scanned by authorities to link the certificate to the national vaccine register.
Belgian representatives at the European Commission’s Health Security Committee were in favour of a vaccine certificate at a European or global level, enabled by the World Health Organisation.
Brunei’s contact tracing app, BruHealth, includes a colour coded health status system based on symptom reporting, travel history, contacts and PCR test results, and shared by QR code. Only those with a green or yellow code can enter businesses or participate in certain activities, and only those with a green code can enter mosques and other places of worship.
On 15 March 2021, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov announced that are preparing for a European COVID certificate for tourists, included proof of vaccination, proof of vaccination, or a negative viral test. However, Bulgaria has also indicated it might recognise vaccines not authorised by the European Medicines Agency.
On 14 January 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Reuters that the idea of a vaccine passport was interesting but fraught with challenges. He believed enough Canadians would get vaccinated that more extreme measures to encourage vaccination, which he believed could be divisive, would be unnecessary.
On 2 February 2021, Iain Stewart, President of the Public Health Agency of Canada, told the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology that the Public Health Agency is looking at the idea of some kind of vaccination certification documentation.
On 9 March 2021, Politico reported that Vito Pilieci, a spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien, said the office would want to see evidence that vaccines protect against disease in those who have been vaccinated and against transmission to others would be key to assessing the necessity of a vaccine passport, or more broadly, proof of vaccination as a condition of service or employment.
On 12 March 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that vaccine certification for international travel exists already for other diseases and are a well-established system. However, he also said that domestic vaccine passports raise questions of equity and that they want to encourage citizens to get vaccinated without discriminating or causing unfairness. The same day, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that how vaccine passports are used domestically is a provincial matter.
On 25 February 2021, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said that the province is actively exploring the possible use of digital vaccine passports
On 9 December 2020, Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Health Minister, said that the Ontario Government was considering providing proof of vaccination that could be used for travel, work and leisure purposes.
On 4 March 2021, Christine Elliott again confirmed that the province is planning to provide citizens with proof of vaccination, either physical or digital, after their second dose.
Chile had a planned immunity certification but changed course. Instead, it has created a ‘release certificate‘ to any person who has completed quarantine following a positive for coronavirus on a standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that lasts for three months. The way it is currently being used does not affect a person’s rights regarding lockdown or facemasks. The intention, rather, is to offer more confidence about caring for vulnerable groups.
In China, the Alipay Health Code app assigns users a QR code with a colour – green, yellow or red – based on their health status and travel history. The code can be scanned by authorities.
On 3 March 2021, it was reported by the Global Times that some delegates attending the annual meetings of the Chinese parliament will propose issuing COVID-19 vaccine passports. Zhu Zhengfu, a member of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, suggested that international arrivals could be exempted from quarantine requirements if they have a negative PCR test and a vaccine passport.
On 8 March 2021, China launched a digital COVID-19 certificate for international travel which includes vaccination status and viral test results, available via WeChat.
On 10 March 2021, Euractiv reported that Croatia’s chief epidemiologist Krunoslav Capak said it was in Croatia’s interest to support proposals for border control based on vaccination certification, but that the Croatian Government has not yet agreed its stance and that it was still too early to talk about COVID-19 vaccine passports.
On 15 March 2021, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told Politico that Croatia is keen to be part of an EU-wide certification scheme to enable travel. He said that the certificates will include proof of vaccination, proof of recovery from COVID-19 and negative test results. He said that the certificate should facilitate the removal of national measures and travel bans currently used to contain COVID-19 and that the European Commission just proposing a technical solution and leaving usage up to individual countries wouldn’t be sufficient.
On 8 January 2021, Reuters reported that Denmark is developing a digital ‘vaccine passport’ for people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. According to an email from the Health Ministry, they expect other countries to require proof of vaccination upon entry and so the passport may be rolled out in the first part of the year to address that need. The Health Ministry underlined the need to investigate further whether people who have been vaccinated can still transmit the virus and how long vaccines last for such a scheme.
On 3 February 2021, Finance Minister Morten Boedskov said that in three to four months a digital vaccine passport will be ready for use for reasons such as business travel. Before the end of February, the Government intends for citizens in Denmark to be able to see on a Danish health website the official confirmation of whether they have been vaccinated.
The Danish Government is working with the Confederation of Danish Industries and the Danish Chamber of Commerce on this scheme. The Danish Government said it will decide later on whether the digital passport should be used for purposes other than travel to help reopen public life.
On 22 March 2021, Denmark published its plan for reopening. This plan included an agreement to introduce a ‘Coronapas’ which will show whether a citizen has been vaccinated, recovered from infection or tested negative in the previous 72 hours (both PCR and antigen tests). Children under the age of 15 will be exempt.
From the end of March, the app ‘MyHealth’ will function as a simple Coronapas. The government plans to launch a more advanced app at the end of May, which takes into account common European standards. Those who do not want to or are unable to use a digital app will be able to acquire a physical vaccination passport and physical evidence of negative tests.
The plan contains an August 2021 ‘sunset clause’ for the use of the Coronapas other than for tourism and travel, with discussions of the experience of using the system in May and June 2021, to decide on its continued scope and use.
According to the plan, the Coronapas will allow holders:
- From 6 April 2021: Access to hairdressers, tattooists, and similar services.
- From 21 April 2021: Access to outdoor dining at restaurants and cafes, museums, art galleries and libraries.
- From 6 May 2021: Access to indoor dining at restaurants and cafes, conferences, venues, theatres, and cinemas and similar other premises where cultural activities are carried out. It will also allow indoor sports for adults over 18 years.
- From 21 May 2021: Access to remaining sports, leisure and association activities that have not been opened in previous phases, and indoor facilities at amusement parks, zoos, etc. and playgrounds.
In Estonia, MTÜ Back To Work are already running a pilot of an immunity passport system developed by Transferwise and Guardtime. The project appears to be related to an earlier effort called CovClear and they are publishing their source code openly.
The pilot is being run with local private firms including A&T Sport, Radisson Blu Sky Hotel Tallinn and PR Foods allowing staff to be tested and share their test results via QR code. The pilot was expected to run until June 2020, but as of July, Back To Work has not published findings from the pilot.
The current system operates via mobile and web application and aims to manage information about COVID-19 tests (either PCR tests or antibody tests) and medical certificates issued by a medical professional. They hope to also include vaccine information in the system once effective vaccines are available.
After logging in and authenticating via their state-issued Estonian ID, the user can get information about their test results from a database. They can then share that information via a QR code. The QR code expires after a minute and access to data from that code after an hour.
The current system is framed as a proof-of-concept pilot of a potential immunity certification system to test how it might work technically before scientific questions of immunity presence, duration and detection are resolved.
The pilot has six phases:
- Informing companies and employees about the nature of the pilot project
- Reaching agreement on the scope of testing and logistics between the companies participating in the pilot project and the occupational health partner participating in the Immunity Passport pilot project
- Taking COVID-19 and/or antibody tests from staff who have given their consent
- Entering test results in the Immunity Passport application
- Showing test results to employer
- Gathering feedback and drawing conclusions.
They don’t address the social consequences of creating such a tool, regardless of its efficacy. ‘We believe that the Immunity Passport is a tool to instil peace and order in the current understanding of COVID-19 and to allow infected people to return to normal working and social life more quickly. Uncertainty creates unnecessary fear and possible discrimination.’ – Taavet Hinrikus
On 7 October 2020, Estonia and the World Health Organisation announcedthey had agreed to collaborate on developing a digitally enhanced International Certificate of Vaccination, a ‘smart yellow card’ to help strengthen the effectiveness of the COVAX initiative, which will provide COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.
On 2 February 2021, Estonia said it will allow passengers arriving into the country with a proof of COVID-19 vaccination to avoid quarantine requirements. The certificate must include information saying when the vaccine was made, which vaccine was used, the issuer of the vaccine and the vaccine batch number.
On 24 March 2021, Kalle Killar, Undersecretary for E-Health and Innovation at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the government are working with Guardtime to release a digital vaccination certificate ready by the end of April. Citizens will receive QR code showing proof of vaccination, including which vaccination and how many doses, via the government patient portal. Citizens will then be able to print or display their QR code on their phone.
On 10 August 2020, the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, announced the country was planning to issue immunity passports to people who have recovered from COVID-19, allowing them to be employed by the government and giving them social privileges not enjoyed by the rest of the population. The government stated it will employ such people to distribute medical kits and food aid to households affected by the pandemic.
Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, stated on the 25 May 2020, that ‘the EU can’t count on immunity certification when lifting border restrictions within the bloc‘ and subsequently on 26 May, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in its report on travel-related measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 stated that ‘given the evidence currently available, any immunity certification for COVID-19 is not supported by ECDC.’ The Health Commissioner has responded in the same vein to multiple questions from MEPs on the topic over the summer of 2020.
Marc Angel, S&D MEP for Luxembourg, asked the European Commission questions on immunity passports on 4 May 2020:
- Does the Commission support the idea of issuing ‘immunity passports’ as a measure in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic?
- If so, how does the Commission intend to ensure that such certificates would not in future become a condition or advantage for employment, and that employers will not refer to employee health records when making hiring or firing decisions?
On 29 May 2020, Elżbieta Rafalska and Beata Szydło ECR MEPs for Poland, asked:
- How does the Commission view the idea of immunity certificates or mentioning having had COVID-19 in documents such as CVs, and does it see a risk in this of discrimination, with a distinction being drawn between those who have already acquired immunity and those who have not?
- Does the Commission recognise the risk of creating a two-tier society, in which people who have recovered from COVID-19 could enjoy all kinds of freedoms, while those who have followed instructions but not yet fallen ill would not have those same freedoms?
On 26 June 2020, ECR MEP for Poland, Joanna Kopcińska also asked about immunity passports:
- What is the Commission’s stance on the matter of the ‘immunity passport’? Does the Commission have a definition and an understanding of the role of an ‘immune passport’?
- Are there any recommendations that the European Commission could take into account in the context of the role that the ‘immune passport’ could play in a future potential second wave of the pandemic?
On 10 July 2020, Health Commissioner Kyriakides first responded to Marc Angel, saying:
- The Commission is aware that some countries are considering the use of so-called ‘immunity passports’ or ‘health passports’ as part of the lifting of confinement measures.
- However, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) advises that there is currently limited evidence on lasting immunity. In its Risk Assessment of 11 June 2020, the ECDC states that most persons infected with coronavirus develop antibodies after infection. However, the longevity of the antibody response is still unclear. The quantity, quality and duration of the human immune response to COVID-19 is presently unclear.
- As a consequence, there is not enough scientific basis for using serology or other immune markers to determine access to public facilities, or take decisions on travel or employment. The World Health Organisation has also cautioned against using immunity certificates.
- The Commission will continue to explore this issue, always placing scientific evidence as the basis for public health policy. The Commission is also helping Member States to coordinate national responses to the pandemic through the Health Security Committee.
On 26 August 2020, Health Commissioner Kyriakides responded to Joanna Kopcińska, saying essentially the same as she had to Angel, and additionally saying that:
- There is a lack of validated serology tests that can ascertain immunity to the virus.
- The Commission is therefore not considering a role for so-called ‘immunity passports’ in preparation for future outbreaks of the pandemic.
On 9 September 2020, Health Commissioner Kyriakides responded to Elżbieta Rafalska and Beata Szydło, additionally saying:
- As for the mention of COVID-19 immunity in documents, health data are considered as sensitive data under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and their processing can only take place under strict requirements. One of the legal grounds for processing such personal data is public interest in the area of public health. In such cases, Union law or Member State law shall be necessary and proportionate, and provide specific measures to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the concerned individual.
- Measures restricting fundamental rights must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. The Commission will continue to monitor such measures until they are all lifted and will be very vigilant on whether they are adequately phased out.
On 7 December 2020, the European Commission Health Security Committee discussed the idea of cross-border verifiable COVID-19 vaccination certificates. French representatives were not in favour of an immunity passport to restrict travellers within Europe and beyond. However, a vaccination certificate would be acceptable as a proof to show that a person has been vaccinated and therefore not need to be tested and quarantined upon arrival of a country. Moreover, France would like to exchange data with other Member States on how to secure QR codes for a health certificate. Belgian representatives were in favour of a vaccine certificate at a European or global level, enabled by the World Health Organisation.
The minutes also stated that this topic will be further elaborated in the next Health Security Committee meeting, with more detailed information from the Commission.
On 12 January 2021, Politico reported that the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposing that the EU introduce a vaccination certificate. The Prime Minister argued that the EU needs quickly establish a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured to be accepted in all Member States to enable freedom of movement and even enable international coordination to re-establish global mobility. Mitsotakis hopes to discuss the issue at an EU Summit on 21 January 2021.
He also said that Greece is not going to make vaccination compulsory or a prerequisite for travel, but that people who have been vaccinated should be free to travel and that this will also provide an incentive for citizens to get vaccinated. Politico reports that
On 14 January 2021, Euractiv reported that Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis, has rejected this proposal by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for an EU-wide COVID-19 vaccination certificate for travel. Iohannis argued it was not good to divide Europe in two and that there must be a vaccination certificate for medical reasons but not for travel.
Euractiv also reported that work is happening in the European Commission to present guidelines on vaccination certificates and their interoperability so that they can be used and recognised across the bloc.
On 15 January 2021, Euractiv reported that European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, welcomed the initiative of the Greek prime minister on a mutually recognised vaccination certificate and said that ‘Whatever is decided, whether it gives priority or access to certain goods, is a political and legal decision that should be discussed at a European level’.
On 15 January 2021, Mario Furore and Laura Ferrara, Five Star Movement MEPs for Italy asked the European Commission:
- whether it intends to coordinate Member States with a view to drawing up a common European vaccination certificate (a sort of health passport certifying vaccination), to be used for travel in the coming months;
- what further measures it intends to take to ensure better coordination between Member States as regards vaccination?
On 18 January 2021, Euractiv reported that the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, stated that the debate on the creation of a vaccination passport for European travel is ‘very premature’. He said that when there is general access to the vaccine and there is clarity on the impact of vaccines on transmission, it will be a different matter.
The same day, Politico also reported that President of the European Council President, Charles Michel, said that EU leaders would start the debate at the 21 January summit. He said that the matter is not yet settled and that there are two questions: Whether vaccine certificates should be introduced in principle? And if so, when? On the latter question, he said that more people would need to be vaccinated first. He also raised concerns that people will view the creation of a certificate as making vaccination mandatory. They also reported that Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa backed the Greek Prime Minister’s proposal for a vaccination passport.
On 19 January 2021, Euractiv reported that EU Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, believed vaccination certificates are ‘important but not sufficient’ to ensure the resumption of free movement and should be accompanied by rapid testing for e.g., catching a flight. The same day, Jordan Bardella, a National Rally MEP for France, asked the European Commission:
- is the Commission still in favour of establishing a vaccine passport at European level, which would if required for travel or access to certain goods, effectively constitute mandatory vaccination?
- Can it, therefore, confirm that it is willing to trample on the free will of each individual and the, nevertheless, fundamental freedom to give or withhold consent to a medical procedure?
On 21 January 2021, Politico reported that Maltese Prime Minister had also sent a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, arguing for the EU to develop an interoperable EU vaccination certificate as an important public health tool in the context of cross-border movement.
On 21 January 2021, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis again argued for a vaccine certificate at the EU COVID-19 Summit. According to Politico, he argued that the EU should plan for a world where significant parts of the population are vaccinated, agreeing on technical details now and discussing the uses of that certificate later. The EU leaders eventually agreed, saying that at such an early stage in the immunisation process, vaccine certificates should be regarded solely as a medical document, and not used for travel purposes.
On 28 January 2021, the EU Member States, with the support of the European Commission, adopted guidelines on proof of vaccination for medical purposes. These guidelines aim to support the interoperability of vaccination certificates and establish a minimum dataset for each certificate. The guidelines are mostly targeting COVID-19 vaccination but might be used in the future as a basis for proving vaccination status.
On 15 February 2021, the ECDC stated that it is supportive of a vaccine certificate for COVID-19 to document someone having been given the vaccine, the number of doses, and the type of vaccine administered. However, they emphasise the importance of differentiating between a vaccine certificate and a ‘vaccine passport’ used for travel purposes or to obtain other exemptions from mitigation measures in the community.
They state that at this point in time, there is no evidence that a fully vaccinated person cannot still be infected and transmit the disease and there is therefore insufficient evidence to exempt travellers with proof of vaccination from quarantine and/or testing. They therefore recommend that proof of vaccination should not, at this stage, cause international travellers to be exempt from complying with other travel risk reduction measures.
On 25 February 2021, digital vaccine certificates were discussed at an EU virtual summit. Angela Merkel stated that everyone agreed the EU needed a digital vaccination certificate and that EU Commission should develop technical proposals in the next three months, by which time there would be enough EU citizens vaccinated to consider certificates.
The proposal for a vaccination certificate was pushed forward by Greece and reportedly backed by Spain, Malta, Italy, Cyprus, Austria and Estonia in discussions. It was separately reported that Bulgaria and Italy also support vaccine certificates within the EU. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis emphasised that his proposal was not to restrict entry only to vaccinated individuals, but to remove the restrictions caused by diagnostic tests and mandatory quarantine for those with a certificate.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said he is advocating a digital Green Pass, similar to the scheme currently being rolled out in Israel. This would use proof of vaccination or recovery and testing via a mobile phone app to enable travel within the EU and access to hospitality and events.
Council President Charles Michel said that the use of vaccine certificates were still an open question and what people would be able to do with them would be up to individual countries. Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen also said that Google and Apple were already offering their vaccine certificate solutions to the World Health Organization (although Apple appears to have indirectly denied any discussions with the WHO). Instead, she wanted to find a way towards a harmonised EU solution.
On 26 February 2021, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that he hoped a vaccine passport for international travel will be in place by the summer and that Portugal will use it’s term as EU president to push forward plans at a European level.
On 1 March 2021, Commission President Von der Leyen said that the European Commission will present a legislative proposal on creating an EU-wide digital vaccination passport on 17 March 2021. The pass would provide proof of vaccinated, proof of recovery and viral test results with EU countries free to set their own criteria for entry. In response, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmès said that a standardised European system that allows individual access to information about their vaccination and tests on a single digital document is a good idea but that vaccination should not be linked to freedom of movement in European, on the grounds of respect for the principle of non-discrimination.
On 12 March 2021, Reuters reported that a draft of the European Commission proposal includes provisions that state any proof of vaccination must not discriminate against those who refuse the shot or cannot get inoculated, although it does not clarify how else member countries should treat those without proof of vaccination at borders. The draft proposal also reportedly leaves it up to the member states to decide whether only vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency should be included in the scheme or whether vaccines unilaterally approved by particular member states could also be included.
On 17 March 2021, the European Commission published its proposals for a Digital Green Certificate system. They state that the system will:
- Include vaccination certificates, test certificates, and certificates of recovery, so that being vaccinated will not be a pre-condition to travel.
- Be free of charge to all EU citizens and residents in member states.
- Include a minimum set of information necessary to confirm and verify the holder’s vaccination, testing or recovery status, e.g. name, date of birth, a unique certificate ID, type of vaccination or test and date of vaccination or test.
- Use a QR code, that can either be shown on a smartphone or printed on paper.
- Be suspended once the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of the international public health emergency caused by COVID-19. Similarly, if the WHO declares a new international public health emergency caused by COVID-19, a variant of it, or a similar infectious disease, the system could be reactivated.
EU member states would be obliged to accept vaccines that have received approval by the European Medicines Agency, but would have the option to accept vaccination certificates with other vaccines if they so choose.
On 11 January 2021, the Prime Minister of Estonia announced that Finland had been invited to join Estonia and the WHO’s digital vaccination passport project.
French representatives at the European Commission’s Health Security Committee were not in favour of an immunity passport to restrict travellers within Europe and beyond. However, a vaccination certificate would be acceptable as a proof to show that a person has been vaccinated and therefore not need to be tested and quarantined upon arrival of a country. Moreover, France would like to exchange data with other Member States on how to secure QR codes for a health certificate.
On 25 February 2021, Emmanuel Macron announced he would hold a meeting with members of the government next week to prepare the establishment of a “health pass” that would allow the reopening of hospitality and cultural venues. However, he said that this pass will be wider than just a vaccination certificate and vaccination cannot be the only condition to access venues.
On 3 March 2021, a poll by Elabe showed that 52% of French people were against introducing a COVID health pass based on vaccination or a negative viral test result.
On 4 March 2021, Politico reported that Health Minister Olivier Véran told MPs in the national assembly that France is not about to introduce a COVID pass. He raised technical issues around whether the digital contact tracing app would be repurposed to provide a pass, and ethical questions about those who are not yet or will not be vaccinated.
On 10 March 2021, French Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters that the Government is working on a COVID-19 health pass.
On 29 April 2020, a press release from the German Health Ministry stated it intended to allow people who have recovered from COVID-19 to get an immunity certificate similar to the vaccination card; if immunity post-infection in scientifically proven. This was reflected in the original draft of the ‘Zweiten Gesetz zum Schutz der Bevölkerung bei einer epidemischen Lage von nationaler Tragweite’ legislation.
On 4 May, this was scaled back to the Health Minister, Jens Spahn, asking the German Ethics Council to consider how such an immunity passport could fulfil its aims while respecting people’s rights. Until the Ethics Council have reported, the German Government agreed not to undertake any legal regulations.
On 28 May, the German Ethics Council announced it will prepare an Ad Hoc Recommendation on the introduction of a proof of immunity for COVID-19, to be published before the Bundestag parliament summer break (i.e. 3 July 2020).
However, on 25 June, the Council announced it would devote more time to its statement on immunity certificates, so its recommendation is likely to be delayed, though it has not yet given an indication of the new schedule. Earlier the same day, the SPD’s Bärbel Bas had stated that the SPD do not believe an immunity certificate should be introduced and believe there must be no difference in freedom and personal rights due to antibody status. Leader of the SPD, Saskia Esken, had similarly commented that day that an immunity certificate for COVID-19 is completely unthinkable without scientific proof antibodies grant immunity and the ability to get a certificate without targeted infection.
On 8 July, the Federal Government, in response to questions by the FDP party, stated that the assessment of immunity certificates by the German Ethics Council would be presented in September 2020. It also suggests the Federal Government believes an immunity certificate could be designed in a way compatible with informational self-determination and equality rights laid down in the German Constitution.
On 22 September 2020, the German Ethics Council published their report on immunity certificates. They did not recommend the use of immunity certificates at the time of publication, due to many uncertainties still exists regarding immunity against COVID-19. They recommended that:
- Commercially available tests to detect immunity against SARS-CoV-2 should be more strictly regulated, considering doubts around their reliability and the resulting potential dangers.
- The public should be comprehensively informed about anti-infection measures serving the common good and about the limited scope of antibody tests.
- Further targeted and coordinated research on the infectious and immunological properties of the novel coronavirus.
The Council was split on whether the use of immunity certificates would be ethical in the case where there was robust proof of immunity to COVD-19 and reliable tests to verify that were available. Based on a risk ethics approach, half of the Council believed that if immunity could be verified, the introduction of immunity certificates would be advisable under certain conditions and in a step-by-step process that could at least initially limit their use to specific contexts or areas. Some members argued that more far-reaching applications would also be justifiable. The other half of the Council members reject the use of state-controlled immunity certificates even if uncertainties regarding the knowledge about immunity were resolved in the future for practical, ethical and legal reasons.
On 17 January 2021, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas argued in Bild that vaccinated people should be allowed to exercise their basic rights again. He reportedly said that while evidence on the effects of vaccines on transmission is not clear, if vaccinated people don’t require critical hospital care then that removes a core reason for restricting fundamental rights.
On 4 February 2021, the German Ethics Council published an ad hoc recommendation on special rules for vaccinated people. The report recommends against exceptions from COVID restrictions for people who have been vaccinated. They argue that removing restrictions from vaccinated individuals would be unacceptable to wider society and could risk further spreading of COVID-19 until and unless it is established that vaccinations prevent the transmission of the virus. However, the Council also says that once lockdown has ended, businesses, such as concert organisers, should be legally entitled to ask customers for proof of vaccination; this would not apply to businesses that offer goods and services essential for fundamental participation in society.
On 1 March 2021, Deutsche Telekom, who previously helped build Germany’s digital contact tracing app, said it had submitted a pitch to the German government to design a digital vaccination passport.
On 4 April 2021, Health Minister Jens Spahn told Bild that two weeks after an individual had received all their vaccine doses, they would be exempt from travel quarantines and be able to access places like hairdressers or shops without needing a negative test result (if such requirements are in place).
On 2 March 2021, the Gibraltar Health Authority announced it would be developing a digital vaccine passport. The app is intended to allow users to verified data on users’ vaccination status and testing. They are aiming for the app to be interoperable with any applications developed in the United Kingdom and the European Union. They have not announced what use cases the app is intended for, beyond a digital representation of existing vaccination cards.
On 12 January 2021, Politico reported that the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, sent a letter to European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, proposing that the EU introduce a vaccination certificate. The Prime Minister argued that the EU needs quickly establish a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured to be accepted in all Member States to enable freedom of movement and even enable international coordination to re-establish global mobility.
He said that Greece is not going to make vaccination compulsory or a prerequisite for travel, but that people who have been vaccinated should be free to travel and that this will also provide an incentive for citizens to get vaccinated.
On 21 January 2021, in an opinion piece for Euractiv, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said that Greece has already developed a draft digital vaccination certificate for air, sea, and rail travel and have shared it with their EU partners. He stated that the vaccination certificate features a QR code, a unique document identifier, and a digital seal all linked to the Greek Government’s gov.gr portal for validating the authenticity of the certificate.
On 8 February 2021, Politico reported that Greece and Israel have signed an agreement to mutually recognise vaccination certificates to remove restrictions on travel between the two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted it would allow travel “without any limitations, no self-isolation, nothing.” Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis said that the agreement Israel could be a blueprint for similar accords with other countries later.
On 26 March 2021, Euractiv reported that Greece will allow Israelis who have a vaccination certificate and negative PCR test result to skip the seven-day quarantine period required for other international visitors.
On 12 January 2021, Politico reported that the Hungarian Government has said it could require visitors to show their vaccination status to gain access to the country via an app showing immunity to COVID-19.
On 22 January 2021, Euractiv reported that Hungarian minister Gergely Gulyás has stated that certificates of COVID-19 protection, in the form of plastic cards, will be given to those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 from mid-February. The Government has not decided what exemptions the cards will grant holders, beyond not requiring holders to follow the 20:00 curfew.
On 11 February 2021, minister Gergely Gulyás reiterated that issuing certificates based on vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or antibody testing was still the plan and that the government has still not yet decided what exemptions these certificates would entitle the holder to.
On 12 March 2021, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that Hungary has agreed to join Israel’s international vaccination ‘green pass’ initiative, after Orbán visited Israel to learn from their pandemic response.
On 15 January 2021, the Minister of Health announced that vaccination certificates that meet the Chief Epidemiologist of Iceland’s guidelines, and are issued in an EEA/EFTA state will be valid at the Icelandic border. However, vaccination certificates do not exempt individuals from the current travel restrictions; they currently only exempt individuals who are already authorised to travel to Iceland from quarantine and testing requirements.
On 25 January 2021, the Directorate of Health stated it is now finalising a digital solution that enables those individuals to obtain a vaccination certificate online. The certificate is intended to be in accordance with existing European standards and the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. They state that the certificate’s aim is to facilitate the movement of people between countries so that individuals can present a vaccine certificate at the border and be exempt from COVID-19 border measures in accordance with the rules of the country concerned.
On 26 November 2020, Deputy Marian Harkin asked Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, whether Ireland would have immunity stamps on passports or digital identities created to show that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 for the purposes of travel.
Coveney said Ireland is underway to establish a system allowing airline passengers to avoid restrictions if they have received a COVID-19 vaccination. However, they have no plans to include a vaccination stamp in passports, and instead hope to include vaccination status alongside proof of negative PCR tests on the passenger locator form.
On 18 December 2020, Elizabeth Canavan, Assistant Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach, stated that it was necessary to issue vaccine certificates in order to keep track of which vaccine a person had been given and when. However, because of uncertainty around the immunity conferred by vaccines, the duration of that immunity and the need for booster doses, it would be premature to discuss treating them as immunity passports.
Pangea, an Israeli digital ID and border control software firm, has proposed a biometric smart card that will store antigen and antibody test results, to allow passengers to enter and board flights at airports. No country has taken up their proposal, although they claim to be in talks with the Israeli and South African authorities.
They don’t believe their technology should be used by the private sector and instead believe government approval is necessary for implementation. They are actively working towards such a smart card lasting beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to become a general medical passport.
On 13 December 2020, the Times of Israel reported that the Health Ministry is planning to give a ‘green passport’ to those who’ve had all doses of a vaccine administered. This passport will exempt them from restrictions, including allowing access to cultural events and eating at restaurants, and the right to not quarantine after exposure to a diagnosed virus-carrier.
On 4 January 2021, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee discussed the plan for a ‘green passport’. Under the plan, ‘green passport’ holders will be able to attend various events and eat at restaurants. They will not be obliged to enter quarantine after contact with a confirmed patient. Those vaccinated will also be able to travel abroad without taking the mandatory COVID-19 test before leaving the country, with a separate international card set to be issued for those travelling abroad. Prof. Nachman Ash, the Coronavirus Commissioner, also said was possible that the passport could be combined with rapid testing. Health Minister MK Yuli-Yoel Edelstein also said he had spoken with other countries about an international alliance that would allow the movement of citizens who have a green passport.
On 5 January 2021, the Ministry of Health’s Director General issued a notice to senior health officials, stating that any ‘green passport’ will only be issued by the Ministry of Health as a uniform government record. No other agency is authorized to issue any similar document and only central government can determine what benefits they might confer. Further information on the Green Pass is on Health Ministry’s website.
On 8 February 2021, Politico reported that Greece and Israel have signed an agreement to mutually recognise vaccination certificates to remove restrictions on travel between the two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted it would allow travel ‘without any limitations, no self-isolation, nothing.’ Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis said that the agreement Israel could be a blueprint for similar accords with other countries later.
On 15 February 2021, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that from Sunday, 21 February, Israelis in possession of a ‘Green Pass’ – a certificate of presumed COVID-19 immunity, displayed on an Israeli Health Ministry app – will be allowed entry to leisure facilities such as gyms and hotels.
Italy has discussed this at a regional level, with the president of the Veneto region proposing a special license for those with antibodies. Former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has suggested a ‘COVID pass’ for the uninfected.
On 28 March 2021, Nikkei reported that Japan will issue digital health certificates to citizens who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccination certificate is primarily for international travel, in line with standards used by the European Union and CommonPass. Reporting suggests that a certificate could be added to an app that will also store negative test results. However, the government is reportedly cautious about domestic COVID status certification, with Health Minister Norihisa Tamura saying such documents could lead to discrimination and prejudice.
Polish Minister of Digital Affairs, Marek Zagórski, has told the Polish NGO, Fundacja Panoptykon, that there are no plans for an immunity certificate system in Poland, as of 14 May 2020.
On 14 January 2021, Euractiv reported that Polish deputy Health Minister, Anna Goławska, stated people who get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Poland will receive a vaccine passport, in the form of a QR code or printed document, after having received a second dose of the vaccine. She also said that the vaccine passport will allow people use the rights to which vaccinated people are entitled. Poland’s National Immunisation Program stated that vaccinated people will be able to use public health services without additional testing, not be included in measures for socialising and won’t have to quarantine after contact with a person infected with COVID-19.
On 10 December 2020, the Philippines’ Department of Tourism expressed support for a global coronavirus vaccine passport and stated that the Department will be looking into the development of vaccine passports with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
On 7 January 2021, Member of the Philippine House of Representatives, Alan Peter Cayetano, pushed for a vaccine passport to ‘allow Filipino travelers to reconnect with the rest of the country and the world’.
On 15 January 2021, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the Department of Health has announced that vaccinated Filipinos will be issued with a government vaccine passport. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said she believes that the vaccine passport, once it is widely implemented, will be part of protocols for border control in different countries.
On 20 January 2021, Senator Pia S. Cayetano filed the ‘Vaccine Passport Program Act’ which aims to establish a Vaccine Passport Program that sets out a standard for what a digital or physical vaccine passport should include. It also recommends that individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 be granted certain benefits or exemptions, such as access to non-essential domestic and international travel, quarantine exemptions and access to business establishments, subject to guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
On 4 January 2021, Reuters reported that Vladimir Putin had ordered the Russian Government to consider vaccination certification to allow overseas travel and that the Government has been tasked with making the certificates internationally recognisable.
On 7 January 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Tawfiq al-Rabiah, announced the launch of an online ‘immunity passport service’ to be issued through the Government’s ‘Tawakkalna’ mobile application for those who completed all doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
On 15 March 2021, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said that it would be scandalous and unreasonable if the EU’s COVID passport scheme only included those vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. This would exclude those who have received Chinese and Russian vaccines, which have been the primary vaccines in Serbia and widely used in other parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower has deployed a digital health passport currently used to store verification that an individual has been discharged from hospital and recovered from COVID-19. On 2 December 2020, GovTech Singapore indicated there are plans already in motion to extend the usage to other healthcare records such as COVID-19 swab results, proof-of-immunity and vaccination records.
On 24 February 2021, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore is discussing the mutual recognition of vaccine certificates with other countries as a necessary step towards resuming global travel.
On 22 March 2021, Reuters reported that Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will visit Malaysia to discuss post-COVID collaboration, including reciprocal vaccination certification.
On 13 January 2021, Prime Minister, Janez Janša, said that ‘it will probably be difficult to travel normally from country to country or from airport to airport without a vaccination passport.’ He indicated that discussions about this have been taking place at various levels for at least a month and that vaccine passports are something that will happen and that Slovenia must be ready for it.
South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is apparently considering proposals from their tourism industry to include immunity passports as part of a wider travel bubble program with nearby countries like Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. The travel bubble and immunity passports will be on the agenda at the 6th National Tourism Policy Meeting.
On 1 April 2021, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said South Korea will launch a mobile app in April which will provide digital proof of vaccination for international travel. The app will reportedly use blockchain technology to counter fraud.
In Spain, the company Vottun, which specialises in the certification and traceability of data on the blockchain, claims to have rolled out a digital health passport with PwC in April.
On 18 June 2020, the Spanish Data Protection Agency warned that asking candidates whether they had developed COVID-19 antibodies as a requirement to take a job constituted a violation of data protection regulations. They stated that information about whether someone has COVID-19 antibodies is personal data related to health. Further, they stated that, under the GDPR, a legal basis is required to lawfully process that information and neither consent of the applicant or necessity for a contract were applicable in this case. They also state that if candidates include information about their antibodies in their application, the recruiting company must delete that information and delete the application if it not possible to make sure that information does not influence the final hiring decision.
The President of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, had asked the Madrid Ministry of Health to develop, by September 2020, an experimental COVID-19 card that uses antibodies, PCR tests, and other proof that an individual has already been infected with, and recovered from, COVID-19 to “simulate an international vaccination card”. She indicated that this card would help to avoid confinements, to safely access establishments such as gyms, museums, cinemas, and, in general, any closed room. Within a day, this scheme had faced sufficient criticism from other politicians, epidemiologists, and rights groups that Madrid abandoned the scheme.
On 18 January 2021, Spain’s State Secretary for Tourism, Fernando Valdés, speaking at the Global Tourism Crisis Committee meeting of UN World Tourism Organization committed to establishing a harmonised vaccination certificate that can facilitate free movement for those who have been vaccinated. However, Valdés also warned that vaccination cannot have discriminatory effects on the flows of visitors or on the reception capacity of destinations and that a certificate should not be a prerequisite for travel.
On 10 March 2021, Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said that the country could start implementing the digital passport by 19 May 2021.
On 4 February 2021, Health Minister Lena Hallengren and Minister of Digitalization Anders Ygeman stated that Sweden plans to roll out a digital vaccination certificate before the summer. They have tasked three government agencies to develop the infrastructure to handle the relevant personal data.
Switzerland’s Federal Office for Public Health says the introduction of COVID-19 immunity passports is not on the agenda for now (as of 14 May 2020). However, they have said that ‘provided that we have confirmation that the antibodies do indeed lead to long-term immunity, it could make sense. It will also become relevant as soon as a vaccine is developed.’
The Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force, a national scientific advisory board with a mandate from the Swiss Federal Council Coronavirus Crisis Unit and Federal Office of Public Health, on 22 April 2020, stated that ‘as long as scientific uncertainty in identifying immunity and its duration persists, such [immunity] passports should not be used as they restrict human rights, create societal dangers, and cannot be justified by a legitimate public interest.’
SICPA, a Swiss company, and Guardtime, an Estonian company now based in Switzerland, have proposed using blockchain and a QR code to associate the result of a test with a specific individual, without assuring anything about the quality or meaning of the test itself.
On 2 December 2020, Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said, in response to the International Air Transport Association’s announcement it was developing a COVID-19 travel pass app, that COVID-19 ‘passports’ to show peoples’ inoculation and infection history will be hard to do in practice but are a good idea.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates’ contact tracing app, Alhosn, includes a colour coded health status system based on PCR test results and shared by QR code. They state that ‘You may need to use this unique QR code to grant you access to public places in the future.’
The UK Government is considering immunity certification and possibly wider health status tracking. Baroness Harding, who is leading the Government’s testing and tracing effort, also has Immunity Certification explicitly within her remit. Public Health England’s draft contact tracing operating model, as of 23 April 2020, explicitly identified immunity risk certification as the sixth pillar of the UK Government’s contact tracing plan.
On 28 April 2020, NHSX CEO, Matt Gould, told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that he’d been approached by a number of organisations about providing immunity passport technology, but said NHSX was in ‘the very early stages’ of looking through the available options and that they ‘are not at a point where [they] are building [immunity passports].’
‘Health status’ was reported to under consideration as a future element of the NHSX Contact Tracing App. NHSX has since discontinued that app in favour of an app developed using Google and Apple’s exposure notification API and it is unclear whether a ‘health status’ is planned to be integrated into the new app.
Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department for Health and Social Care, met with Yoti on 13 April 2020 to discuss COVID-19 certification, and IBM on 20 April 2020 to discuss COVID-19 immunity certification. Nadine Dorries, Minister for Patient Safety at the Department for Health and Social Care, also met with the Behavioural Insights Team on 9 April 2020 to discuss COVID-19 Immunity Passporting.
On 18 May 2020, Lord Bethell, also stated that ‘[the Government’s immunity certificate plans] are in development. We are fully aware of the concerns that he has expressed about their potentially divisive nature, but the public deserves to know whether they have had the disease. We have to use whatever technology we can to help shake off the economic and social effects of this virus. Therefore, we retain an open mind on the use of certification.’
According to the minutes of the 40th Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meeting held on the 4 June 2020, SAGE suggested that ‘Uncertainties around the implications of antibody test results mean that clinical use of serological testing is some way off. Immunity passports or equivalents are not advisable for similar reasons.’ In the 41st SAGE meeting, on 11 June 2020, the SAGE Secretariat stated it would ‘commission [an] item of double testing and release, quarantine and antibodies…’ for the next SAGE meeting.
A paper produced for the 45th SAGE meeting, Tests for antibodies against SARS CoV2 by Wendy Barclay and Peter Openshaw, concluded that ‘If immunity passports based on the commercial antibody tests change behaviour, or practise, the low specificity [of commercial antibody tests] could have serious implications. At present, there is insufficient evidence that knowledge of an individual’s immune status can be relied upon to enable a change in behaviour. This is because the tests themselves have lower than ideal specificity, and we do not yet know that a positive result in such a test guarantees protective immunity.’ SAGE advised that, based on current understanding, it would be premature to introduce immunity passports, but it advised that use of antibody positivity for short-term decisions may be possible.
On 9 July 2020, at the 46th SAGE meeting, SAGE noted that ‘the conclusion of the Senior Clinicians Group that, at present, a testing strategy that includes antibody testing, swab testing and Ct value assessment to enable release of individuals from self-isolation or quarantine cannot be operationalised – and that further data are needed before an optimal strategy can be designed.’
Conservative MP Greg Smith, on 24 July 2020, asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care ‘what plans he has to introduce immunity passports as a means of allowing the public to safely (a) take flights and (b) attend the theatre?’
Minister of State, Nadine Dorries, replied that ‘Before considering whether antibody testing and certification could ever be used to enable specific individuals to be exempted from social distancing restrictions and/or self-isolation measures, we first need to improve our understanding of how the immune system responds to COVID-19. To gain answers to these critical questions on immunity, the United Kingdom Government has been working closely with the Office for National Statistics, Biobank, universities and other partners to establish a series of studies that will help us learn more about the prevalence and spread of the virus, as well as the nature and duration of the immune response.’
On 9 September 2020, the British Medical Journal reported that as part of the Government’s moon-shot testing programme, it will roll out ‘digital immunity passports’ to allow people who test negative to return to workplaces, travel, and participate in other activities.
On 17 November 2020, it was reported in the Telegraph that there were informal conversations among Government ministers about issuing a QR code-based vaccination certification that would allow entry into currently high-risk venues and events.
On 19 November 2020, at the 69th SAGE Meeting, SAGE advised that ‘Immunity certification is theoretically possible, however further data and considerations are needed before any recommendation can be made. New data are expected shortly. Behavioural and operational considerations would need to be taken into account, as well as the immunology.’ While still not in favour of immunity certification based on antibody tests, this marks a slightly less negative tone than previous minutes which directly advised against the idea. The SPI-B sub-group of SAGE was asked to provide behavioural input on considerations for certification
On 21 November 2020, it was also reported in the Telegraph that the Government was considering issuing ‘freedom passes’ to those who continually test negative to COVID-19 twice a week, in the form of a letter, card, or app.
On 25 November 2020, De La Rue, previous manufacturers of UK passports, confirmed it was in talks with governments and pharmaceutical companies about the feasibility of COVID-19 travel certificates that incorporate biometrics in verifying whether the holder had been vaccinated or received a negative COVID-19 test.
On 28 November 2020, the Telegraph reported the Department of Transport was considering introducing vaccination stamps to allow tourists to bypass checks at the border.
On 30 November 2020, the Times reported that NHS Test and Trace were looking into how to integrate test results and vaccine status into the NHS contact tracing app. The same day, Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for the rollout of vaccines, suggested that the government were looking at vaccine certification to allow individuals to share vaccine status with their GP and that restaurants, bars and other venues might also use that system to decide whether to allow customers to enter. On 1 December 2020, however, Michael Gove stated that the Government is not planning to introduce vaccine passports but conceded that ‘individual businesses have the capacity to make decisions about who they will admit and why.’
On 2 December 2020, The Times editorial board stated their view that it was government’s job to facilitate businesses demanding proof of vaccination from customers and that such rules would not be discrimination. On 24 December 2020, they published a follow-up view, arguing Government should formalise vaccine checks done by business.
On 12 January 2021, the Telegraph reported that Mvine, a cybersecurity company, and iProov, a biometrics company would be trailing a digital vaccine passport with two local authority directors of public health, set to run until the end of March. Innovate UK, the Government’s science and research funding agency, has provided £75,000 of funding for the project.
On 24 January 2021, the Telegraph reported that Innovate UK had granted a total of £450,000 to eight projects conducting feasibility studies and developing vaccine passports and COVID status apps. Beyond the Mvine and iProov pilot, these also include:
- Enduring Net (£49,678) for decentralised digital COVID-19 credentials system.
- The Hub Company (£49,448) for a project for a QR code-based digital and physical certificates based on negative test results, antibody testing, and proof of vaccination.
- EAS Technologies (£173,877) for an accreditation platform including vaccination certificates and health passports to help the global sporting and events industry.
- Eyn Limited (£46,797) for a project looking at linking facial biometrics to proof of ‘immunity’ status.
- Logifect (£37,209) to develop post-vaccination immunity passports.
On 26 January 2021, Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, said that ICO would approach a detailed vaccine passport proposal in the same way they would approach any initiative by the government, asking the same questions as they asked about contact tracing apps, i.e. is it necessary? Is it proportionate? Does it work? Does it do what it promises to? How is the data going to be used? Is there transparency?
She also noted that vaccine passports touch on issues beyond data protection, in terms of human rights, creating a two-tiered society and concerns over whether this is identity systems by the backdoor.
On 27 January 2021, former Prime Minister Tony Blair called on the Government to establish a single global digital vaccine passport scheme through the G7, capable of tracking and verifying an individual’s coronavirus ‘status’ including vaccination status and details of test results. He warned that if the UK did not push forward a common system, others might dictate the standards and rules.
Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director for the Scottish Government responded to this proposal while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s COVID-19 Committee. He said that any scheme should be public health led, and supported by digital and policy staff. He is not currently in favour of a binary system that lets individuals act differently, as that is not currently supported by the science on transmission but he does think we will probably move towards such a system in future. He is supportive of taking a slower approach, and getting ready for such a system now to be ready for when we have greater knowledge about transmission. He also supports a global rather than regional approach.
On 5 February 2021, the Times reported that the Foreign Office, the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care are working on options for vaccine passports for travellers to countries that may demand it as a condition of entry. This was reportedly particularly in response to Greece planning to allow British tourists to visit from May provided they can provide proof of vaccination. In response, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said that: ‘there are still no plans to roll out vaccine passports. At the moment, going on holiday is illegal – but we will keep the situation under review.’
On 6 February 2021, the Telegraph reported that some Ministers supported and were working on a ‘targeted’ vaccine passport scheme. The most common use intended uses would be to allow international travel, but that a vaccine passport could assist people in taking part in other activities too. The success of any scheme was seen to depend on whether or not being vaccinated means that it is not possible to transmit the virus to others.
On 7 February 2021, Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said vaccine passports would not be introduced because the vaccine was not mandatory in the UK, vaccine passports would be discriminatory, and it wasn’t clear what impact they would have on transmission of the virus. He said instead that individuals could ask their GP if they needed evidence of vaccination for international travel.
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said that we should be open to the idea of vaccine passports and that they may be necessary, but more information would be needed on the uses, i.e. international travel versus domestic uses.
On 10 February 2021, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, stated that he had spoken with counterparts in the United States, Singapore and at the UN’s ICAO aviation body about an international certification system to ease travel for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, comparing it to certification for yellow fever vaccination. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also stated that it was in talking to the UK Government about its Travel Pass app, which is being trialled three airlines. Shapps denied that domestic vaccination passports for entry to venues such as pubs or restaurants were being considered.
The same day, at a Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested once coronavirus infections have fallen to a low number in the UK, people who have been vaccinated Britons could use an app to prove their vaccination status for international travel.
On 12 February 2021, the Times reported that officials at the Department for Transport have been instructed to draft proposals for vaccine certificates for international travel after agreement at Cabinet’s COVID operational committee.
On 14 February 2021, Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb said in an interview that both international and domestic vaccine passports were still under consideration and could be on the agenda for the G7. However, that evening, officials denied that vaccine passports were under consideration.
On 15 February 2021, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the UK is working with countries around the world on how vaccine certification can be assured if countries bring in vaccination requirements for entry at the border. However, he repeated that the government does not have plans for domestic certification schemes.
At a press conference the same day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it is inevitable that for international travel, vaccination certificates are inevitable, drawing parallel to Yellow Fever. He said that domestically, the UK will look at all options but suggested that the UK will focus on mass vaccination, with lateral flow testing for nightclubs, theatres and other hospitality venues.
On 22 February 2021, the Government published it’s Spring 2021 COVID-19 Response plan. This plan included a review into whether COVID-status certification could play a role in reopening the economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety. They define COVID status certification involves using testing or vaccination data to confirm in different settings that people have a lower risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others.
The review will include assessing to what extent certification would be effective in reducing risk, and the potential uses to enable access to settings or a relaxation of COVIDSecure mitigations. The Government will also consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of this approach and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification. It will draw on external advice to develop recommendations that take into account any social and economic impacts, and implications for disproportionately impacted groups and individuals’ privacy and security. The Government will set out its conclusions in advance of Step 4 of its wider plan, i.e. before 21 June 2021 at the earliest.
The plan also states that the Government is working with the World Health Organisation and other multilateral organisations and using the UK’s presidency of the G7 this year to attempt to lead global efforts to adopt a clear international framework.
On 24 February 2021, it was reported that the NHS app (not to be confused with the NHS COVID-19 app used for digital contact tracing) could be repurposed to provide a digital Covid certificate allowing people to use their phone to prove they have been vaccinated or have tested negative. Haris Theoharis, the Greek tourism minister, also said that Anglo-Greek technical teams are working on the format of a certificate system for international travel, as an alternative to testing upon entry to a country.
On 25 February 2021, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, following the government’s creation of a taskforce on international vaccine passports, he has already had discussions with Spain, the United States and Singapore on the issue.
On 9 March 2021, the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, in response to the Government’s COVID status certification review, launched an inquiry to consider potential ethical, legal and operational issues and the efficacy and appropriateness of a certificate system. On 23 March 2021, the Committee will take public evidence on COVID-19 vaccine certification.
On 15 March 2021, the Government published a call for evidence for the COVID status certification review, closing 29 March 2021, and the Terms of Reference for the review.
On 19 March 2021, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that the UK would be piloting the use of COVID certification to test whether they could enable the return of fans at sporting events.
On 24 March 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons Liaison Committee that the concept of a vaccine certification should be familiar, citing vaccination requirements for healthcare workers, and said that it might be up to individual pubs to decide whether they would put in place certification requirements.
On 25 March 2021, Boris Johnson said that no decision had been made on COVID status certification but that there would be an update on current thinking published in April. He also suggested that the scheme could include a combination of vaccination status, antibody test results and negative viral test results and that requirements would not be considered until all adults had been offered a vaccination. Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove also said that a system that relied purely on vaccination would not be appropriate.
On 28 March 2021, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that any COVID status certification scheme, if introduced, would be temporary. He suggested that the decision is whether such a system would be useful in the short-term.
On 29 March 2021, Michael Gove told MPs that NHSX was already working on the technical details of how a COVID status certificate could work.
On 3 April 2021, the Telegraph reported that senior government sources have warned that the new certification scheme will take months to develop and may not be ready until September.
On 4 April 2021, the Guardian reported that the Government, in December 2020, commissioned Zühlke Engineering, a Swiss-based consultancy that has worked closely on the UK’s COVID contact-tracing app, to produce a report on COVID status certificates. The report reportedly detailed research on public attitudes towards a COVID status certificate. According to the Guardian, the report examined whether certificates could be used to decide whether people should be allowed into sports events, pubs and other crowded spaces, and whether they would be appropriate as a condition of entry for family events such as weddings or even small casual gatherings.
On 5 April 2021, the Government published its Roadmap Reviews Update, detailing the progress of its COVID status certification review and related reviews.
The Government believes businesses and other organisations can legally ask customers for proof of COVID status to access their premises if they are compliant with equalities legislation. They believe that banning this in most cases would be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe, although there may be exceptions where the Government needs to intervene to ensure equitable access to essential services.
The Government believes that COVID-status certification could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure. They plan to:
- Continue to gather evidence on the extent to which COVID-status certification is an effective measure to control the epidemic and reduce hospitalisations and deaths.
- Continue to explore the equity and ethical concerns bound up with any form of COVID-status certification.
- Trial COVID-status certification in certain settings, including large events, through the Events Research Programme.
- Present interim findings from the COVID-Status Certification Review to Parliament later this month.
They believe that:
- It is important that there are appropriate exemptions for people for whom vaccination is not advised and repeat testing is difficult.
- There are some settings (such as essential public services, public transport and essential shops) where COVID-status certification should never be required, in order to ensure access for all.
The Government expects that COVID-status certification could be demonstrated by:
- an up-to-date vaccine status
- a negative lateral flow or PCR test taken at a test site on the same day or the day before their admission to a venue
- proof of natural immunity, such as through a previous positive PCR for a time limit of 180 days from the date of the positive test and following completion of the self-isolation period.
The update also states that the NHS is working on providing individuals with the means to demonstrate their COVID status through a digital and non-digital route.
The Events Research Programme will carry out pilots in a series of venues to gather evidence on the transmission risks associated with different settings, and potential approaches to managing and mitigating transmission risks. The pilots are explicitly intended to determine the extent to which COVID status certification could facilitate mass events, which kinds of status should be included, and the logistical and practical considerations involved. The pilots plan to use the domestic COVID-status certification standards, with early pilots using testing alone, while later pilots will use vaccination and acquired immunity status.
The Events Research Programme’s first phase of pilots includes:
- Hot Water Comedy Club, Liverpool (16 April)
- FA Cup Semi Final, Wembley Stadium (18 April)
- World Snooker Championship, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (17 April – 3 May)
- Luna Cinema, Liverpool (23-25 April)
- Mass participation run, Hatfield House, Hatfield (24-25 April)
- Carabao Cup Final, Wembley Stadium (25 April)
- ACC Business Event, Liverpool (28 April)
- Circus Nightclub, Liverpool (30 April – 1 May)
- FA Cup Final, Wembley Stadium (15 May).
On 6 April 2021, Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that Parliament will vote on any plan to introduce vaccine certification for use in domestic businesses and hospitality settings.
On 4 March 2021, Health Minister Robin Swann told Stormont’s health committee that requiring vaccine certification to enter a cinema or restaurant was not something he believes should ever be developed in Northern Ireland.
However, he said talks were taking place at a UK-wide level about possible certification for international travel and that was something that would need to be considered across the UK and Ireland, if other countries require a vaccination certificate prior to entry.
On 18 February 2021, the Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group discussed a paper on vaccine certification, which said it was too early for any scheme to be introduced, due to a lack of evidence on vaccination effects. However, it argued that the government needed to explore the technology and data needed to support a system that could cover international travel and domestic use. It also highlighted ethical issues and practicalities that would need additional work.
On 23 February 2021, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would not support vaccine passport use for access to public services but that they were worth considering if they could give us greater normality. She highlighted the need to first understand the individual protection and reduction in transmission provided by vaccines and the ethical issues around particular use cases. She said she would never support something that deepened social inequalities or put barriers in the way of people accessing public services.
On 5 April 2021, Scotland’s Health Secretary Jean Freeman said that the Scottish Government is currently looking at what digital infrastructure would be needed for any form of COVID status certification, saying that ideally where possible any certification system would be digital to avoid unnecessary pressure on the health service. She said they are also working through the ethical, equality and practical questions about how it might be used and in what circumstances.
On 2 December 2020, Vaughan Gething MS, Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, said that ‘Those receiving a COVID-19 vaccination will be given a credit card-sized NHS Wales immunisation card which will have the vaccine name, date of immunisation and batch number of each of the doses given handwritten on them. These will act as a reminder for a second dose and for the type of vaccine, and it will also give information about how to report side effects.’ The immunisation cards are a normal part of the vaccination procedure and were not described as vaccine passports or immunity passports. However, many news sources have incorrectly described them as immunity passports.
On 28 March 2021, Mark Drakeford, Welsh First Minister, said that he thought there were definitely prizes to be won through domestic vaccine certification, but there were also very big practical and ethical challenges to face as well, with any system needing to be fair and reliable.
On 9 December 2020, myGP, a British GP appointment and prescription ordering app, announced it would launch myGP TICKet, a proof of vaccination using existing medical records, in February 2021. This is explicitly advertised as allowing businesses to relax restrictions and treat differently those who have been vaccinated.
On 23 March 2021, Barchester Healthcare announced it would be trialling the myGP TICKet to prove staff’s vaccination status. Barchester Healthcare said that use of the app could become compulsory alongside the company’s existing policy of having all staff vaccinated by May. Barchester Healthcare said they would wait for Gove’s review before mandating the use of vaccine passports across all its staff, and that vaccine passports will not be mandatory for visitors. A trial of myGP TICKet will also run at Lillian Faithful Care care homes in Gloucestershire.
On 23 January 2021, the Guardian reported that human resources software companies Workday and BrightHR have implemented systems to allow employers to request and monitor information about vaccinations from their staff, with the intention of helping define their own policies on vaccination requirements.
IDnow, a German identity verification company, has claimed it has been in talks with the UK Government about a system to identify people who had recovered from COVID-19, though the Government set no timeline for the project.
Onfido, a British biometric and digital identification company, has also submitted a proposal for an immunity passport to the UK Government. Husayn Kassai, Onfido CEO, told Business Insider that they have ‘had dozens of companies register an interest with us on this. There are a number of different trials and initiatives underway right now.’
Yoti, a British digital identity management company, has established a partnership with a Polish testing company, FRANKD, to store and share credentials verifying the outcome of COVID-19 tests – either antigen or antibody tests. Robin Tombs, Yoti CEO, told Business Insider he had held talks with companies in the sports, entertainment, travel, logistics, manufacturing and healthcare sectors.
YourGene, a diagnostics company, and Prova, a start-up focused on sharing test results, are planning to offer a COVID-19 health status app to employees and clients of foreign exchange provider Caxton.
On 10 April 2020, Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said immunity certificates are ‘being discussed’.
The US Department of Defense’s Naval Medical Research Center has been studying how to mitigate the effect on marine operations, including testing the viability on an ‘immunity passport’ for marines by identifying ‘a measurable indicator that can be calculated to safely return recruits and Marines back to the fight even if they are re-exposed to the infection.’
Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic Systems, a major medical records company, has said Epic is working with a group to put a marker related to antibody testing on your phone. The marker will likely be an extension of their MyChart patient medical record access application, and will likely say whether you are tested, whether you are currently not safe, and whether you have COVID-19 right now. This would likely be setup as a traffic light style code with red for currently infected, green for clear, and yellow for unknown.
On 23 July 2020, NHL (National Hockey League) announced that it would be using Clear’s (an air travel security platform) Health Pass to screen players and staff during their playoffs. According to the company, the system will help track about 3,000 people who are involved, including players, coaches, and support staff. After registering their identity within Clear’s biometric system, those involved in the playoffs will be expected to fill out a regular health survey after leaving hotel rooms, take a selfie with their phone to confirm their identity, and then use a QR code to register their information at the kiosk and have their temperature taken in order to enter the NHL’s secured areas. The Clear website also suggests lab test results can be linked to the system and suggest that vaccine status and more will be integrated into the system over time.
On 9 March 2021, press secretary Jen Psaki, when asked by reporters about vaccine passports, said the US Government was primarily focused on speeding up vaccination rates. She said that the administration welcomed ideas from the private sector and non-profits but declined to answer whether the administration would become involved in setting standards for any vaccine passport scheme.
On 15 March 2021, Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, told reporters that he believed it was not the role of the Government to hold data on individuals’ vaccinations or to provide proof of vaccination. However, he also outlined what he saw as the right principles for non-profits and the private sector pursuing these schemes: the system needs to be private; the data should be secure; the access to it should be free; it should be available both digitally and in paper, and in multiple languages; and it should be open source.
On 29 March 2021, Andy Slavitt said that the United States Government did not view itself as having a role in creating a vaccine passport nor in holding citizens’ data. Instead, they view these schemes as something that the private sector is doing and will do. Instead, there is an interagency process looking at standards and the government will outline guidelines for these credentials.
The California facial recognition start-up, FaceFirst, has been promoting the idea of a ‘coronavirus immunity registry.’ They explicitly frame it as a way to inform employers and border control officials about an individual’s COVID-19 status. They want to include test results, what kind of test was administered (whether antigen or antibody), and whether you have been near confirmed infections. They claim to be in ‘indirect discussions’ with the US Government.
On 12 May 2020, California assembly member, Ian Calderon, and California state senate member, Robert Hertzberg, put forward AB-2004 medical test results: verification credentials. This Bill originally would have authorised public and private providers of COVID-19 test results or other medical test results to use verifiable credentials, as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), for the purpose of providing test results to individuals. The bill would have required those verifiable credentials to follow the open-source World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Verifiable Credentials Data Model, as specified.
After being amended in the Assembly and the Senate, the Bill was approved by both houses, enrolled, and presented to the Governor on 15 September 2020. The new version of the Bill would require the Government Operations Agency, by 1 July 2021, to appoint a working group, consisting of representatives from the public and private sectors to explore the use of verifiable health credentials for COVID-19 or other medical test results in this state. The Bill would require the working group to report its recommendations to the Legislature by 1 July 2022. The Bill would have also prohibited law enforcement agencies, excluding federal law enforcement, from requiring a patient to show a verifiable health credential.
On 26 September 2020, it was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom.
On 22 December 2020, Joe Gruters, Republican Florida State Senator, filed a state bill titled ‘Discrimination on the Basis of Personal Health Information’. The bill is aimed at prohibiting businesses and government from:
- connecting an individual’s vaccination status or proof of immunity from any virus to their identification,
- requiring an individual to receive a vaccination or provide proof of immunity from any virus
- discriminating against, deny services or access for, or otherwise penalising an individual for not receiving a vaccination or providing proof of immunity from any virus.
On 30 March 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rejected the idea of vaccine passports being used to restrict admissions to sites including movie theatres, sporting events, theme parks and airplanes. He said he will issue emergency rules this week that will prevent businesses from requiring proof of vaccination and will work with the Florida legislature on a permanent ban for requiring proof of vaccinations used under Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorisation.
On 2 April 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order preventing government bodies from creating any kind of vaccine passport and prohibiting businesses from requiring any kind of vaccine passport to enter or be served by the business.
On 13 February 2021, KITV reported that the State of Hawaii was working with CLEAR to pilot CLEAR’s Health Pass on flights between Los Angeles and Hawaii from 18 February 2021, to link COVID-19 test results to individuals before a flight. Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said he wants to use the system beyond international travel to allow large gatherings like concerts, sporting events, weddings and graduations.
On 5 March 2021, the Commons Project Foundation and CLEAR announced they were jointly collaborating to work on Hawaii’s Safe Travels program, with the CommonPass platform allowing the inclusion of vaccination records into the program.
On 31 March 2021, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said the State hopes to create an app to provide proof of vaccination for travel, including between the Hawaiian islands. He said he would like to pilot a system using physical vaccination cards as proof of vaccination for inter-island travel in mid-April.
On 1 April 2021, Governor Mike Parson said that Missouri would not require vaccine passports but would be comfortable with private companies using and requiring them.
On 29 March 2021, Republican State Representative Jedediah Hinkle introduced a bill to the Montana State Legislature to prohibit the use of vaccination status or immunity passporting for certain purposes. In particular, it aims to prevent state and local governments and public bodies from:
- Connecting individual’s medical records to individual’s government ID.
- Requiring proof of vaccination status or an immunity passport in order to obtain benefits or public assistance; become a member of a private business; to access food, childcare and medication or to travel.
- Compelling or coercing an individual to receive any pharmaceutical product or intervention
These do not apply to a person who is confirmed to have a communicable disease and is quarantined under a public isolation order.
On 19 March 2021, Politico reported that Governor Phil Murphy suggested that proof of vaccination could become necessary to attend sporting events or take a flight.
On 31 March 2021, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts stated that Nebraska will not participate in any vaccine passport program as he views any such program as violating freedom of movement and healthcare privacy.
On 10 April 2020, New York State Assembly members have proposed Bill NOA10462 as legislation to govern the use of COVID-19 contact tracing and immunity certification. The Bill aims to ‘establish a protocol for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and Immunity Certification and to protect individuals’ right to privacy; grants individuals the right to control their self-sovereign identification data; provides for the anonymization of biometric data for protection from law enforcement.’ The Bill was subsequently referred to the Health Committee and did not make it past that stage.
On 18 December 2020, New York Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang suggested that individuals should be able to display their vaccination status via an app to access mass gatherings. He has subsequently said in his official policy platform that all New Yorkers should be able to receive a vaccine verification on a smartphone app or a physical card.
On 2 March 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a pilot of Excelsior Pass, an app for verifying vaccination status and test results based on IBM’s Digital Health Pass, during events at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. This app was previously tested at a Brooklyn Nets game at Barclays Center on 27 February 2021. Governor Cuomo said that New York is putting guidelines in place to ensure individuals attending events involving larger gatherings have tested negative for COVID or have been vaccinated to avoid an outbreak of the virus and that the Excelsior Pass will play an important role in those guidelines. The press release also states that the app is flexible and built to scale, allowing other states to join in future.
On 26 March 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of Excelsior Pass after pilots and a beta test over the previous month. Excelsior Pass is intended to allow citizens to verify their COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results to gain entry to major stadiums and arenas, wedding receptions, or catered and other events above the social gathering limit. From April 2, Excelsior Pass will expand to smaller arts, entertainment and event venues that register interest in using the system.
On 4 April 2021, State Representatives Jim Walsh and Mike Volz proposed House Bill 1570, which would prevent government bodies from requiring proof of vaccination for COVID-19 as a condition of entry to public spaces, e.g. shops, restaurants, bars etc.
The Linux Foundation’s Public Health division hosts the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative, which aims to advance the use of Verifiable Credentials (VCs) and technical interoperability of VCs in the public health realm, starting with vaccine credentials for COVID-19.
The Vaccination Credential Initiative launched on 14 January 2021. The initiative is a partnership between The Commons Project Foundation, co-creators with the World Economic Forum of the CommonPass health status app, and a range of health and technology companies including CARIN Alliance, Cerner, Change Healthcare, The Commons Project Foundation, Epic, Evernorth, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, MITRE, Oracle, Safe Health, Salesforce. The Vaccination Credential Initiative’s stated aims are to allow digital access to vaccination records using the SMART Health Cards specification, based on W3C Verifiable Credential and HL7 FHIR standards, to allow individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice.
On 25 August 2020, IBM announced Digital Health Pass. Digital Health Pass is part of IBM’s COVID-19 workplace management tool Watson Works. It is designed to enable employees, customers and visitors of a given company to share their share their vaccination and health status on their smartphone, and thus be granted or denied access to that business’s location. On 18 December 2020, IBM announced the Digital Health Pass will also be integrated into Salesforce’s Work.com system.
Onfido, a global identity verification and authentication company, are developing immunity passport integration for start-up Sidehide’s hotel booking platform.
Bizagi, a UK-based company, has created CoronaPass, an app which claims it will use an encrypted database to store information about users’ immune status, based on antibody test results provided by the user’s hospital or another healthcare provider. They want to leave the criteria for what counts as a valid test, who is seen as ‘immune’ and how long certificates should last, up to individual governments and health authorities. They claim to be trailing the app with Ernst & Young for their employees and clients.
On 22 January 2021, the Guardian reported that the United Nations World Tourism Organisation called for international health and travel bodies to step up the coordination of a standardised digital certification system, as well as harmonised testing protocols. However, The World Travel and Tourism Council has called vaccine passports discriminatory, instead favouring a test and release strategy at borders.
The International Air Transport Association, a trade body representing 290 airlines which make up 82% of global air traffic, has said it would support the development of immunity passports to segregate no-risk travellers, when these are backed by medical science and recognised by governments. As of 24 November 2020, the IATA is reportedly developing a Travel Pass app which will display COVID-19 test results, alongside proof of vaccination and national entry rules. The app will link to an electronic copy of the holder’s passport to prove their identity. A test program will reportedly begin with British Airways parent, IAG SA, before the end of 2020.
London Heathrow Chief Executive, John Holland-Kaye, has advocated for a universal system of immunity certification, which would allow for people who have already had coronavirus to travel between ‘low risk’ countries. In October 2020, two trials of COVID-19 health passports took place. Pilots and cabin crew working for Virgin Atlantic could use the digital ID app Yoti to prove they have been tested.
The airport also hosted trials of the CommonPass app, backed by the World Economic Forum, which aimed to verify negative COVID-19 test results for passengers flying between London Heathrow and Newark Liberty on United Airlines flights. The trials are being observed by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diane Sabatino, the CBP deputy director, said the pass offered the potential ‘solution to build confidence in air travel’.
On 24 November 2020, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Swiss International Air Lines and JetBlue said they would begin to offer a digital health-passport known as CommonPass to passengers who could certify they were free of coronavirus.
On 20 January 2021, Saga Cruises announced that it would require all travellers to prove that they have received a full course of vaccination at least 14 days before the departure of the cruise.
On 10 March 2021, Air Serbia announced its plan to trial the IATA’s Travel Pass from April on Air Serbia flights between Belgrade and Zurich in Switzerland.
On 14 March 2021, British Airways announced its plans to allow people who are fully vaccinated to register their status on BA’s smartphone app.
On 17 March 2021, P&O Cruises announced that all passengers would need proof of vaccination before they will be allowed to board their cruises.
On 26 March 2021, Virgin Atlantic said it will be trailing the International Air Transport Association’s Travel Pass on its London to Barbados route from 16 April 2021.
Findings from a rapid expert deliberation to consider the risks and benefits of the potential roll-out of digital vaccine passports
A resource for monitoring the development, uptake and efficacy of global attempts to utilise smartphones and other digital devices for contact tracing