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28 March 2021

Vaccine passports need to be considered, says expert

28 March 2021

Vaccine passports need to be considered as part of wider measures to limit the spread of coronavirus in the future, an expert has said.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, warned that people will have to be “alert” to Covid-19 for many years to come.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that passports could be considered as part of wider measures to make activities safe while living with the virus.

Asked if vaccine passports are inevitable, he said: “It’s certainly something we have to consider seriously as part of a wider package of measures that are designed to make our activities safe.”

Over the last year, when we have tried to make ourselves safe ... stopping us socialising, stopping us going to the pub. Part of the whole point of living with this virus is we have to switch emphasis - we have to now start thinking about how do we make those activities safe

Prof Woolhouse said that, while a lot of workplaces, retail and hospitality can be made safer with measures such as social distancing and screens, passports could be used for nightclubs and mass gatherings.

He added: “Over the last year, when we have tried to make ourselves safe, we have tended to do this by stopping us doing activities – stopping us socialising, stopping us going to the pub.

“Part of the whole point of living with this virus is we have to switch emphasis – we have to now start thinking about how do we make those activities safe.

“We have already made them a lot safer for a lot of people by the rollout of the vaccine, but we may also need to have additional measures in place; as I said, social distancing, the screens and so on, for those activities that can be made safer.

“A lot of workplaces, a lot of retail, a lot of hospitality can be made safer.

“For those activities that it is difficult to make completely safe – I am thinking things like nightclubs, large concerts, mass gatherings – that’s where passports come in, whether it is vaccine passports, test negative passports or even immunity passports.”

There are still going to be situations where we might need to use personal protective equipment, we might well need to do some kind of social distancing, put some kind of biosecurity measures in place

Prof Woolhouse, who is also a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said testing, tracing and isolating will be vital for the “entire future”.

He added: “Hopefully, because, as I said, the vaccines are performing so well – certainly against the variants we know about – that we will be fairly close to the herd immunity threshold and what that means is that any outbreaks will be fairly small and, hopefully, fairly easily contained.

“I still suspect that, looking forward – and I am talking now right through 2021 and into the years ahead – that we are still going to have to be alert to coronavirus.

“There are still going to be situations where we might need to use personal protective equipment, we might well need to do some kind of social distancing, put some kind of biosecurity measures in place.

“The important thing is, in case I’m being too optimistic and we are not close to the herd immunity threshold, that we also maintain our capacity to test and trace, and particularly to isolate people who are infected.

“That final thing is going to remain important for the entire future, that, when we get cases of novel coronavirus, those people are then going to have to be asked to self-isolate and their contacts.”

Asked if this could require a new legal underpinning, he said: “I think that’s right.”

His comments come as lockdown measures in England are due to be relaxed to allow greater freedoms outside.

Groups of up to six people, or two households, will be able to socialise in parks and gardens once more and outdoor sports facilities will reopen as the stay-at-home order ends in England on Monday.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said another lockdown “is the last thing in the world we would want to do”, but he acknowledged that dates in the road map may slip if things worsen.

“Of course they could be delayed if the situation deteriorates, but at the moment we’re on track,” he told Marr.

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