Illustration showing Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine vials.(REUTERS/ FILE)
Illustration showing Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine vials.(REUTERS/ FILE)

Covid-19: Tony Blair’s think tank urges need for ‘digital health passports’

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change said the ultimate goal of an effective vaccine programme should be to enable people to live safely and freely alongside the coronavirus
By Prasun Sonwalkar | Hindustan Times, London
PUBLISHED ON DEC 03, 2020 05:25 PM IST

A digital health passport with a traffic lights-like system that shows vaccine status of individuals is needed to ensure that those with negative Covid-19 test and vaccination are exempt from curbs and are able to attend sport events, concerts and travel, a think-tank set up by former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Thursday.

After the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was approved on Wednesday, the focus moved to delivery and administration from next week, and overcoming anti-vaccine content on social media.

Prominent individuals from various walks of life are to be enlisted to encourage wide take-up of the vaccine. The first doses are expected to arrive from Belgium on Tuesday.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change said the ultimate goal of an effective vaccine programme should be to enable people to live safely and freely alongside the virus. A key part of this will be individuals having “health passports” that shows their current vaccine status.

It called on the Boris Johnson administration to urgently approve a digital platform for the health passport that can draw on vaccine and testing data by the second quarter of 2021, so that the economy, travel and society can be reopened and future lockdowns avoided.

The think-tank’s report, titled ‘How the Government Should Call the Shots: Getting the UK Vaccine-Ready’, said the passport should show an individual’s next testing date, current testing status (antigen and antibody), vaccine date and location, and vaccine status including expiry date.

It said, “The digital health passport would mean that those with an up-to-date negative Covid-19 test or a vaccination would not be subject to strict Covid restrictions and would be able to access settings such as the workplace, hospitality venues, sporting events, concerts.”

“The Premier League is already believed to be in discussion with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on how such a system could allow fans to return to stadiums next year. It would enable a person to show they are Covid-safe, and give people working in those settings a quick, reliable and secure way to verify this,” the report added.

A simple system of status similar to traffic lights would indicate whether someone has received the vaccine and/or has an acceptable test result, allowing them to move freely: ‘red’, indicating the person neither has an up-to-date test, nor a vaccine; ‘amber’, indicating a negative rapid test and ability to move freely until next test, ideally weekly; and ‘green’, indicating the person has had a vaccine and is able to move around freely until next vaccine date.

Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer and a leading figure in official communication on the virus, said thinking around issues such as “vaccination certificates” to make it easier for people to access venues and services had not yet evolved.

However, he added that the National Health Service (NHS) would have a clear digital record of who had been vaccinated, saying, “There are definite plans to make sure that we absolutely know, and it is linked to health digital records, who has had the vaccine, who has one dose, two doses if two doses are required, which vaccine they’ve had, and when they’ve had it.”

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