Intended for healthcare professionals

Head To Head

Are vaccine passports and covid passes a valid alternative to lockdown?

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 03 November 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2571
  1. Daniel Sleat, head of research unit1,
  2. Kirsty Innes, director of digital government unit1,
  3. Imogen Parker, associate director, policy fellow23
  1. 1Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, London
  2. 2Ada Lovelace Institute, London
  3. 3Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge
  1. Correspondence to: K Innes K.Innes{at}, I Parker iparker{at}

As countries reopen while the pandemic continues, “passports” indicating a person’s covid or vaccination status are the only obvious way to leave lockdowns behind, say Kirsty Innes and Daniel Sleat. But the risks are big—and if we start down that road we may struggle to go back, argues Imogen Parker

Yes—Daniel Sleat, Kirsty Innes

Covid passes are a tool enabling individuals to prove that they are either fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, have immunity from a previous infection, or have recently tested negative for covid-19. Asking people to prove their health status before entering a crowded or enclosed environment potentially reduces the risk of covid being spread, by restricting entry to people with a reduced risk of having covid.

Properly implemented “covid passes” can provide reassurance to the public, and especially to vulnerable people, that all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that the people they are mingling with are free of the virus. These passes are the most accurate tool at our disposal for limiting transmission and avoiding further blanket lockdowns.

Definitions of covid passes

Articles on this subject use many different terms such as health pass, covid pass, vaccine passport, or green pass, and they often conflate different types of passes/passports.

In this debate we distinguish between a “vaccine passport,” which is a document or app showing evidence of vaccination status only; and a “covid pass,” a document or app showing evidence that a person has either a lower risk covid status based on their vaccination record, a recent negative lateral flow or PCR test, or a positive antibody test (showing that they had the infection previously and have some level of immunity).

The implications of relying on vaccine status alone are different from allowing all three of the above measures or a combination.

The UK government’s Events Research Programme,1 while limited in …

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