Covid-19 vaccine passports that would allow people to go on foreign holidays are 'feasible' but a lack of a set standards across countries means they cannot be introduced yet, experts have said.

In a report published on Friday in the Royal Society, the scientists also said more information is needed on the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines in preventing infection and transmission, as well as duration of the protective immunity they provide, in order to establish how long such a passport might be valid.

They stressed a 'broader discussion' was needed about some of the key aspects of the document, such as the need for legal and ethical standards, alongside conversations about data privacy.

Digital Covid health passports 'should not be rolled out, in order to protect human rights'

Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford and a lead author of the report, Professor Melinda Mills, said: “Understanding what a vaccine passport could be used for is a fundamental question – is it literally a passport to allow international travel or could it be used domestically to allow holders greater freedoms?

“The intended use will have significant implications across a wide range of legal and ethical issues that need to be fully explored and could inadvertently discriminate or exacerbate existing inequalities.

“International standardisation is one of the criteria we believe essential, but we have already seen some countries introducing vaccine certificates related to travel or linked to quarantine or attending events.

“We need a broader discussion about multiple aspects of a vaccine passport, from the science of immunity through to data privacy, technical challenges and the ethics and legality of how it might be used.”

The report sets out 12 key points that need to be satisfied in order to deliver a vaccine passport.

These are:

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

Professor of epidemiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford and one of the lead authors on the report, professor Christopher Dye, said: “An effective vaccine passport system that would allow the return to pre-Covid-19 activities, including travel, without compromising personal or public health, must meet a set of demanding criteria – but it is feasible.

No plans for 'vaccine passport' to allow people access to pubs and restaurants

“First there is the science of immunity, then the challenges of something working across the world that is durable, reliable and secure.

“There are the legal and ethical issues and if you can crack all that, you have to have the trust of the people.”

He said “huge progress” has been made towards addressing some of the challenges, but added: “We are not there yet”.

Prof Dye added: “At the most basic level, we are still gathering data on exactly how effective each vaccine is in preventing infection and transmission and on how long the immunity will last.”

The news comes after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said in December that there were no plans for an 'immunity passport' for people to be allowed in places such as pubs and restaurants.

While a report by Dr Ana Beduschi, from the University of Exeter said digital health passports should not be introduced on a mass basis in order to protect data privacy and human rights.

Digital health passports, also known as immunity passports, are digital credentials which when combined with identity verification allow people to prove their health status.

Dr Beduschi, from the University of Exeter, said policymakers needed to strike a balance between protecting the rights and freedoms of all individuals and safeguarding public interests while managing the effects of the pandemic.

She said: “Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the Covid-19 pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights.

“They build on sensitive personal health information to create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status, which can then be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights individuals may enjoy."