What are the benefits and risks of a ‘vaccine passport’ for UK businesses?


  • Vaccine passports also known as covid passports, are being considered as a means that would enable vaccinated people to move about more freely.
  • In the UK, the vaccine certificate for travel is currently called the NHS COVID Pass and was launched on 17 May 2021.
  • Hospitality, travel and leisure, and healthcare can benefit from vaccine passports, though there is uncertainty over the success.

The widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, increasing rate of vaccinations as well as businesses seeking to resume operations may all work in favour of providing vaccine certificates to know the vaccination or immunization status of any individual. However, business communities, as well as the government have been contemplating the risks associated with mandating vaccine passports in order to allow free movement of people across all settings along with its role in minimising the risk of diseases transmission.

The efforts aimed at the successful implementation of COVID vaccine passports or certifications have gained momentum as governments lift restrictions with the aim to regain economic normalcy. Nevertheless, citizens, governments as well as businesses continue to have a divided opinion over its widespread implementation.

What are vaccine passports, and how do they work?

Vaccine passports also known as covid passports, immunity certificates or COVID status certification, are a means to enable vaccinated people to move about more freely. Proving their vaccination status could enable individuals to engage more safely in activities such as international travel, return to work from office settings, or visiting a pub or a restaurant.

Vaccine passports may be displayed on mobile phone apps in the form of QR codes or as other evidence confirming the individual’s vaccination status. Other features such as testing in order minimise discrimination against those who have not been or cannot be vaccinated is also being included in the vaccine passports. A paper-based alternative has also been developed to prevent digital exclusion for those who do not own or use a smartphone.

In the UK, the vaccine certificate for travel is currently called as the NHS COVID Pass and was launched on 17 May 2021. It can be accessed on the existing NHS app (different from the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app). Apart from the paper certificate, people who have registered with a GP surgery in England can sign up on the app, and a QR code can then be used to confirm the vaccination status. The certificate is exclusively available to those vaccinated in the UK.

Vaccine passports – A hit or miss?

Vaccine passports could help speed up the transition to normal life, enable free movement of completely immunised people, and aid improves economic activity with a lower risk of spread of the virus. Businesses and service providers that have restricted or limited operations due to the imposition of social distancing measures are expected to benefit from the vaccine passports. Similarly, sectors such as the travel and leisure industry that was in the doldrums due to the imposition of travel bans, restrictions and travel bubbles, vaccine passports could be instrumental in the recuperation of the travel and tourism sectors. A vaccine passport for travel will play a role in the resumption of near-normal international travel in the coming months.

Vaccination passports could also be beneficial across the healthcare sector and in care homes. During the pandemic, people delayed non-essential surgeries and medical treatments with the fear of contracting the infection. However, these certificates would enable healthcare authorities to better manage non-COVID admissions to hospitals and thereby build confidence among patients. On the other hand, some vaccinated residents who may still inevitably be at risk may require to either be vaccinated or undergo regular tests to prevent the spread of infection.

Businesses and events operating in high-risk settings such as concerts, festivals, etc., with limited ventilation, could use vaccine passports as a means to get back on track, post a gloomy last year. However, the use of these passports by businesses still remains uncertain.

There hovers a huge cloud of uncertainty over the success of vaccine passports for resuming normalcy across the business landscape due to questions such as success rate of the vaccine on the new coronavirus variants, immunisation rates, need for additional doses or booster jabs, approval for new vaccines, etc. Apart from this, legalities associated with asking an individual to produce a vaccine certificate, data security issues, risk of possible discrimination, etc., may require careful consideration of several aspects in order to design an approach that will aid in ironing out the complexities associated with the certification and formulating an output that is both acceptable and safe for businesses as well as their customers.