The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has largely disrupted travel and participation in social gatherings owing to the high transmission rate of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent.
As a result of the vaccination programs, the introduction of a vaccination-proof policy, either through an electronic or physical vaccination certificate, has been proposed to allow freedom of movement and participation in social events.
Vaccine passports have recently been discussed in the United Kingdom (UK), especially for use in non-medical settings like restaurants, public houses, and sporting events, where social distancing can be difficult.
Vaccine passports are intended to hasten the reopening of international travel and boost tourism, which has been badly affected by the travel ban. However, they have been a contentious issue.
Some people, however, are opposed to the idea of mandating vaccinations and argue that this would restrict travel for those who choose not to vaccinate.
As the current data shows that vaccinated individuals might be reinfected with SARS-CoV-2, the latter group also believes that this policy may restrict healthy non-infected or immune individuals from social events and domestic or international travel.
Routine immunization is also strongly dependent upon socio-demographic factors. An early report in the UK indicates that gender and ethnicity are associated with lower vaccination rates. For example, non-Whites, Black African, Black Caribbean, and British Muslims are among the lower vaccinated groups.
A recent survey has revealed that in the UK, vaccine passports have obtained maximum support, especially, with regard to the regularization of international travel.
Now, a new study published on medRxiv* preprint server focuses on the quantitative evaluation of the impact of the implementation of vaccine passports for domestic and international travel.
This study examines whether vaccine passports are likely to encourage or discourage the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among individuals who have not yet received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Researchers have computed the overall impact of the induction of vaccine passports on the general intention to be vaccinated. Further, the differential impact of vaccine passports on uptake intent between socio-demographic groups was determined.
Baseline intent to accept a COVID-19 vaccine
The study used a large-scale national survey that included 17,611 adults residing in the UK. The survey was conducted for the period between the 9th and 27th of April 2021.
Researchers used Bayesian multilevel regression and poststratification for unbiased estimation of the willingness among all participants to get vaccinated due to the introduction of vaccine passports.
For Bayesian model inference, Gibb’s sampling was used, with 95% highest posterior density intervals for unbiased estimations. All participants of the study did not receive two vaccine doses. Further, multiple level regression analysis was used to ascertain the differential effect of passports on vaccination across socio-demographic groups and different regions in the UK.
This study highlighted that vaccine passports or certificates are less popular in certain socio-demographic groups such as non-White, Black African, Black Caribbean, and British Muslims, which creates a risk of developing a divided society.
Considering the reluctance to get vaccinated, there is still the possibility that the epidemic will spread. According to the researchers, if this group refuses to get vaccinated, even after attempts to convince them, the rate of vaccination in their adjacent areas should be increased in order to achieve herd immunity.
Researchers have observed that the group of participants who expressed doubts about getting vaccines remained unchanged in their views. They displayed a lower inclination to be vaccinated, after the introduction of vaccine passports.
Further, the health workers and social care workers in the UK stated that as people are feeling pressured to get vaccinated, the actual turnaround was declining.
The survey also reported that most females, professionals, and university degree holders showed a decreased inclination to vaccinate if vaccine passports were to be introduced for domestic use.
The authors of the study stated that there are no specific reasons that explain the difference in the willingness for vaccination. However, the sense of new and unfamiliar scientific phenomena may account for this unwillingness.
This survey found that the general willingness to get vaccinated increased across the UK after the commencement of the vaccination program. However, the impact on getting vaccinated, after introducing vaccine passports, was inconclusive.
The current research has strong implications for the UK’s policy on vaccine certification. The survey report will also help other countries, including the European Union, to hasten free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A limitation of this study is that the participants provided their own reports, and researchers believe that many times, participants overstate their intentions due to government, media, or health professionals influencing them.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.
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