U.K. to begin trial run of ‘health passports’ as EU debates proof of vaccination certificates

U.K. to begin trial run of ‘health passports’ as EU debates proof of vaccination certificates
Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via AP
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Boris Johnson’s government in the U.K. intends to issue vaccine passports to thousands of British citizens who received the coronavirus inoculations, in a “trial” run of the program this month.

Described as a “health passport,” the government-sponsored vaccine passport will be arriving in the form of a smartphone app, and is being developed by the biometric company iProov in partnership with the cybersecurity company Mvine. 

According to the Daily Telegraph, the trial is set to be completed by March, and will be managed by two directors of public health in a local authority, which remains to be announced. The goal of the project is to assess the suitability of health passports as a means of tracking how many people received the first or second dose of the vaccine. 

“The idea is that we are there ready and waiting in the event that we find ourselves interested in a situation where we need to prove something about ourselves,” said Frank Joshi, the director and founder of Mvine. 

According to the CEO of iProov, Andrew Bud, it is “very important” that vaccine programs be tied to Britain's National Health Service, its universal healthcare system.

The concept of vaccine passports was first mentioned by U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock last April, who described them as an “immunity certificate.” 

“We are looking at an immunity certificate. People who have had the disease have got the antibodies and then have immunity can show that and therefore get back as much as possible to normal life,” said Hancock.

The British government has sent out mixed messages on whether it plans to roll out the controversial program, with Minister Michael Gove saying it was “not the plan” to do so. However, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi stated days before that British businesses would require such vaccine passports for their customers. He later contradicted himself on Tuesday, when he denied there were any plans to introduce such a measure. 

Zahawi’s denial was supported by the Department of Health and Social Care.

“At this stage of the vaccination programme, it is not clear whether vaccines will prevent transmission,” a department spokesman said, according to Breitbart. “As large numbers of people from at risk groups are vaccinated, we will be able to gather the evidence to prove the impact on infection rates, hospitalisation and reduced deaths. If successful, this should in time lead to a reassessment of current restrictions.”

Other countries in Europe have seen increased demand for a vaccine passport, with Denmark announcing in early November that it plans to roll out travel passes early this year. They were joined by Greece, whose Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the European Commission that the organization needed to introduce a standardized vaccine passport to facilitate travel throughout the European Union. 

“It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all Member States,” Mitsotakis said. “The lengthy experience we have had on developing a common PLF [Passenger Locator Form] has shown us that there is an urgent need for a high-level EU-wide mobilization to move things forward.”

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