Could the UK introduce Covid vaccine passports - and how would they work?

A worker hangs a direction sign to the NHS Covid Vaccine Centre.

The government is looking into whether or not to introduce vaccine passports - Credit: PA

The government is holding a review into the possible use of vaccine passports in everyday life to gain access to pubs, venues and events as part of the roadmap out of lockdown.

The use of vaccine certificates to allow people to travel abroad has already been discussed, but now the government is looking into their use in domestic settings.

But if vaccine passports are introduced what would their use look like, how would they work and are there any concerns?

Handout photo issued by 10 Downing Street of Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove speaking d

Michael Gove has been tasked with leading a review into the possible use of vaccine passports as part of the road map for releasing England's coronavirus lockdown. - Credit: PA

What's the current situation?

Michael Gove, minister for the cabinet office, has been tasked with leading a review into the possible use of vaccine passports as part of the road map for releasing England's coronavirus lockdown. The review is one of four the government is holding into the easing of lockdown restrictions. The government has already said it would help facilitate the use of vaccine passports for international travel but domestic passports could see them used by businesses to see if staff have been vaccinated or venues to allow customers access.

What would a vaccine passport look like and how would it work?

The government review will look at the possibility of using a smartphone app such as the existing Covid-19 app or myGP app to host a digital health passport, which would carry details of vaccinations and negative test results.

Proof of a recent negative coronavirus test or having been vaccinated could then be used to attend a particular event if required by organisers or to gain entry into a pub, restaurant or theatre. For those without a passport, these areas could remain off-limits.

It is understood that combining proof of vaccination or a negative test result is one option being considered by ministers, so as to avoid appearing to discriminate against those who decline the jab for health or moral reasons.

Nurse Maria Alexiou preparing a Covid-19 vaccination

Nurse Maria Alexiou preparing a Covid-19 vaccination at the new mass vaccination centre at Connaught Hall in Attleborough. - Credit: Danielle Booden

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Is anywhere else in the world using them?

Israel has already introduced a "green pass" for those who have received a coronavirus vaccine or are thought to be immune after contracting the virus.

The pass grants access to gyms, hotels, swimming pools and places of worship with bars and other hospitality venues expected to be added to the list. For those without a green pass, many places will remain off-limits while others will be accessible with a negative coronavirus test result.

Elsewhere in the world, a number of EU countries are calling for a member-wide approach to accepting vaccine travel passports. For decades travellers have needed to prove they are vaccinated against yellow-fever to gain entry into certain countries.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street, in London, on t

Boris Johnson has acknowledged the "deep and complex issues" surrounding the introduction of Covid-19 status certificates. - Credit: PA

What are the concerns?

Prime minister Boris Johnson has already acknowledged there are "deep and complex issues" including ethical concerns that need to be explored before any vaccination passport scheme can be introduced.

He said: "We can't be discriminatory against people who for whatever reason can't have the vaccine. There might be medical reasons why people can't have a vaccine. Or some people may genuinely refuse to have one. I think that's mistaken, I think everybody should have a vaccine, but we need to thrash all this out."

There are also human rights and legal concerns.

The human rights organisation Liberty has warned the introduction of vaccine passports would create a two-tier system whereby people with a certificate would have access to freedoms and parts of society while others would not.

Some employers have already said they will require staff to be vaccinated and unions support certificates to keep workers safe but some have said the approach could be divisive while lawyers have warned demanding staff are vaccinated would be unlawful in most circumstances. 

Customers at the Adam & Eve pub in Norwich after lockdown restrictions were eased for pubs and resta

Customers at the Adam & Eve pub in Norwich after lockdown restrictions were eased for pubs and restaurants after the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Does everyone in government support the idea?

The prime minister has said "fervent libertarians"  will reject the idea of vaccine passports but "other people will think there's a case for it".

Senior officials, including the government's vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, have frequently appeared to dismiss the idea of introducing vaccine passports in the UK. But announcing his road map on Monday, Mr Johnson confirmed that a study into the use of vaccine and testing certificates will go ahead.

When will we know more?

It is hoped the findings of the vaccine passport review will be available before stage four of the lockdown easing on June 21, the earliest date by which ministers hope all restrictions, including mask-wearing and social distancing, can be lifted.

Meanwhile, the UK will use its presidency of the G7 to seek an international approach on the use of vaccine passports as part of the effort to restart global travel.