COVID-19 vaccine passport has become the buzzword of 2021. It refers to any document, digital or paper, which proves that an individual has received two doses of vaccine against COVID-19.

Since mid-February, Israel has been giving out ‘green passes’ to all its citizens that have been vaccinated, allowing access to public venues such as restaurants.

Several European countries have announced plans to launch digital COVID-19 vaccine passports. The European Union (EU) is looking to roll out ‘digital green certificates’ in the summer, enabling anyone vaccinated against Covid, or who has tested negative, or recently recovered from the virus, to travel across all 27 member states. Pitched as a part of the safe reopening of New York City, the ‘Excelsior pass’ allows residents to access public venues and events after being vaccinated or showing recent negative test results.

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Given that it is a matter of time when a COVID-19 passport or a pass or a certificate will become commonplace, here are some considerations to ensure a fair, accessible and effective process if such a concept is rolled out in Scotland.

First, should COVID-19 vaccine passports be implemented? In Israel, anyone above the age of 16 years is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, opening up the use of the green pass across a wide population. Similarly, New York City has a wide eligibility criteria including adults above the age of 30 years. In such cases, a pass incentivises residents to get vaccinated and also offers a chance to increase local business, which is why this kind of initiative could be considered especially when larger groups of the population are eligible for vaccination.


Second, what information should such a document contain? The EU model offers a good example. Such a passport should be digital or one that can be updated and must not only include vaccination details but also recent negative test results or evidence of recovery from COVID-19.

This means that proof of vaccination alone will not be a mandatory ticket to travel or accessing any public events and spaces and that individuals could also provide negative test results. The evolving evidence around COVID-19 vaccines and immunity needs to be built into the document.

Third, will this document be accepted by the people? Consultations with the public, business associations and relevant stakeholders are absolutely essential to understand the needs and concerns of every group as well as the practicalities of actually rolling such an initiative. Will all the vaccines be accepted in this passport? How long will these passports be in use? Can these passports be used across the UK? Will international students and visitors have access to public venues in Scotland without a passport?

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These are operational questions that need to be answered through stakeholder consultations. Just like New York City, trialling this concept would be beneficial as lessons learned can be included in any kind of scale-up.

Fourth, are there any ethical concerns around such a passport? Certainly. There are issues around privacy, surveillance and equitable access and all of these need to be carefully considered. How personal data is stored and used needs to be transparent to the public and accountability measures have to be built in.

Not everyone in the world will have access to COVID-19 vaccines. While young people in North America and Europe will have received their vaccinations this year, their counterparts in Africa and South Asia will not be as lucky. This is why vaccine passports should not be mandatory, instead, they should be considered as one part of the larger strategy of opening up public spaces and domestic and international travel, while we continue to focus on suppressing the spread of COVID-19.

Dr Genevie Fernandes is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the Global Health Governance Programme, Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh