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COVID-19 Vaccine Certification

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 4 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the statement by the Prime Minister on 23 February (HC Deb, col 627), when they will provide further details of their review of the potential role of COVID-19 vaccine certification; and what organisations will be involved in that review.

My Lords, as set out in the Covid-19 response document published last week, the Government will review whether Covid status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will lead the review, and he is currently considering the approach to its conduct.

Covid passports would make things easier for travellers, care homes, venues and businesses, but there are also concerns about confidentiality and straying into making vaccines compulsory. Proper consent for any system of certification is vital, and the Government need to consult on this quickly and widely. How will that be done? There are also other issues, such as the risks of forgery and of people borrowing other people’s certification. How will those inspecting a Covid passport know, in the absence of a proper ID card or identity assurance system, whether the person presenting it is who they say they are and whether the certification applies to that person?

My Lords, the noble Lord rightly sets out a number of issues that will have to be considered as the review goes forward. As the Prime Minister has said, there are deep and complex issues that we need to explore. We shall certainly draw on outside advice and opinion as we go forward.

My Lords, how will the Government mitigate the risk that introducing vaccine certificates will move toward a system of individual risk-scoring that could undermine public health by treating a collective problem as an individual one and reduce compliance with vital individual public health measures?

My Lords, again, the noble Lord raises important considerations. As I have said, my right honourable friend is currently scoping areas for the review, and many issues will come up on both sides of the question, which will have to be carefully weighed. I can assure the noble Lord and others that Covid status certificates would not be a form of national identity card.

My Lords, last month the Ada Lovelace Institute published a report on the potential of vaccine passports. Among other recommendations, it called for the Government to engage with the public on this topic in order to build trust and legitimacy and also to understand what trade-offs the public are willing to make. What plans do the Government, and the review in particular, have to engage with the public so that we can build trust, not distrust, around status certificates?

Again, there are obviously two strands here. There is the strand of international discussion about enabling international travel, which is subject to a review being conducted by my right honourable friend Mr Shapps, and there is the current review addressing the issues that noble Lords have been speaking about. As I have said, these are very early days—the review was announced only last week—but, as the Prime Minister said, we will seek the best scientific, moral, philosophical and ethical viewpoints on the way forward. Obviously, public opinion will be part of that.

My Lords, a Covid variant first identified in Brazil has been found in the UK. Some variants, like this one, appear to be more contagious, and there are concerns that current vaccines may not work as well against them. The UK Government have already announced a deal with the biopharmaceutical company CureVac to develop vaccines against future variants, with a pre-order of 50 million doses. Can the Minister tell us what steps the Government will take to ensure that no vaccine will be approved unless the expected high standards of safety, quality and effectiveness are met as those new vaccines will be developed in as short a time as possible?

My Lords, obviously I am not the lead Minister on vaccines, but what I do know, and I think the public know, is that our standards in this country in terms of assessing vaccines are among the highest in the world, if not the highest. The Government would never in any circumstances do anything that would jeopardise the safety of the public.

On Monday the European Union announced plans for a digital green pass that will provide proof that a person has been vaccinated against Covid-19, as well as details of tests, and will “facilitate Europeans’ lives”. Are Her Majesty’s Government in discussion with the Commission about this—about working together—and will it be part of the proposed consultation?

My Lords, as I say, there is a parallel strand here. The review that was announced is of the potential domestic application of Covid certification; the review of international travel is a separate strand. I can repeat what I have said before at this Dispatch Box: the Government are talking to all partners internationally about the work of trying to facilitate international travel when it is safe to do so. Obviously, we have to respond to the fact that other countries may decide that people need to show vaccinated status as a requirement for entry, but the Government are not currently looking to make it a requirement to have a vaccination certificate to come into this country.

My Lords, in considering whether to introduce vaccine certification, will the Government consult organisations representing patients who have been advised by their clinician that it would not be in their interest to take the vaccine? How would such patients be able to navigate a world in which vaccine certification was widely used?

My Lords, the noble Baroness, as ever, raises a very important and sensitive point. The Prime Minister has said that we cannot discriminate against people who, for whatever reason, cannot have the vaccine. I assure her that the review will certainly take that aspect into account.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. I want to return to the vaccination certificate on a domestic issue, following on from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Can the Minister ensure that, whatever system we end up with, it is very narrowly and clearly defined and has the consent of those who are excluded from its benefits as well as those who would derive benefits from having such a certificate?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. As I have tried to indicate in this series of answers—I said at the outset that my right honourable friend is currently scoping the approach—your Lordships’ advice through all this will be very much valued and a range of opinions, including those just expressed, will have to be considered. As the Prime Minister has said, deep and complex issues are involved.

My Lords, in those various discussions, will my noble friend consider the plight of a family travelling together where the adults are vaccinated and have a certificate but the children, including adolescents, are not? Is there a concern that a modern Morton’s fork is created, so that the efficiency and effectiveness of any certificate is undermined identically whether the accompanying children have a Covid-19 test or not? Has my noble friend noted that this dilemma in countries which use a vaccine certificate domestically has resulted in the certificate having only a marginal impact?

My Lords, again, my noble friend brings forward an issue—the situation of a family with children, whether in a pub or travelling—which will have to be considered and addressed. I assure him that his point will be taken into account.

Will the Minister ensure that the review considers the impact of introducing vaccine certificates on the cultural and entertainment sectors, and both the commercial and the ethical implications for them? Any form of passporting will likely impact disproportionately on those communities already excluded, and the integration of health data into cultural participation is a worrying shift from the social to the medical model of disability. Can the Minister confirm the review will include a full equality impact assessment?

My Lords, as I have said, my right honourable friend is currently scoping the approach to the review. On the point made by the noble Baroness, I repeat what the Prime Minister said: we will reach out to get the best moral, philosophical and ethical viewpoints on this issue. That will include all the points raised in this House today.

Sitting suspended.