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Vaccine passports and COVID-19 status apps

An evidence review and expert deliberation of the practical and ethical issues around digital vaccine passports and COVID-19 status apps.

Smartphone displaying a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate in male's hand
Project lead
Imogen Parker
Project date
12 January 2021 – ongoing
Image of a vaccine passport in the centre, with dotted lines to six other images, representing the scientific, time, process, legal and policy implications of vaccine passports.

Requirements for governments and developers

Checkpoints for vaccine passports

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Project overview

The rapid development and roll-out of vaccines to protect people from COVID-19 prompted significant debate about digital ‘vaccine passports’. The Ada Lovelace Institute, in collaboration with Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery, explored the evidence, risks and benefits of private and public sector digital vaccine and COVID-19 status certification schemes.

This project began in January 2021 with a call for public evidence. Alongside this, we convened a rapid deliberation with a multi-disciplinary group of experts to identify the opportunities and challenges of health passport apps. We also hosted a series of public events which explored the history of vaccine certifications, the technical design for digital certification regimes, and the ethical, health and legal challenges they pose.

This culminated in a report, Checkpoints for vaccine passports, designed to provide guidance to the UK, and other national governments, on the potential roll-out of digital vaccine certification schemes. In it, we set out a series of thresholds for vaccine passports being developed, deployed and implemented in a societally beneficial way.

Project background

This project was the next phase of Ada’s broader work on the technical considerations and societal implications of COVID-19 related technologies. This includes Exit through the app store, a rapid evidence review into the use of technologies to transition out of the first COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020.

During the course of the pandemic, countries around the world adopted vaccine passports which granted an individual certain privileges, generally based on a test result or their vaccination status. This could include exemption from quarantines and contact tracing self-isolation requests or greater access to social events and workplaces.

As a vaccine was rolled out around the world,  and in the UK from December 2020, there was a need to consider the benefits and risks of certification schemes. At this time and as shown by Ada’s International monitor of vaccine certificates and COVID status apps, politicians and officials around the world were exploring the idea. The World Health Organisation was recruiting experts to inform the development of a vaccine certification and collaborating with Estonia to develop a Smart Vaccination Certificate consortium, and private airline companies had begun to develop prototypes.

Project findings

This research was conducted rapidly, with findings released in stages to respond to the ever- evolving policy developments in the UK and beyond.

In February 2021, we published our interim review, What place should COVID-19 vaccine passports have in society?, which summarises the findings and recommendations from our expert deliberation.

The same month, we hosted four public events, which you can watch back via the below links:

In May 2021, we published our final report, Checkpoints for vaccine passports. This outlines guidance for governments and developers to build a vaccine passport system which delivers societal benefit.

Next steps

Our research into the datafication of health is ongoing. This includes an exploration of the global, long-term implications and impacts of COVID-19 technologies, such as digital vaccine passports and contact tracing apps. For more information, visit the Health data and COVID-19 technologies programme page.


What place should COVID-19 vaccine passports have in society?

Findings of the rapid expert deliberation

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