Cross-party politicians scrutinise evidence for Covid passes

A group of cross-party MPs scrutinising the Government’s response to the pandemic has begun a series of enquiries – the first being Covid passports.

The Pandemic Response and Recovery All Party Parliamentary Group will be gathering information from doctors, public health officials, business owners and parliamentary colleagues before setting out its conclusion to Government ministers.

Co-chaired by Conservative MP The Rt Hon Esther McVey and Labour MP Graham Stringer the group want to examine the pros and cons of such a scheme, the rationale behind it, along with global emerging evidence as to if they work. 

Ms McVey said: “We need to understand the role these passports would play and hear from Government ministers who support a potential scheme, businesses that would be affected, together with expert opinions of scientists and health experts. We need to look at how the scheme is working in Scotland and fully understand the implications introducing Covid passports could have. 

“Coupled with that we need a full cost analysis and scientific evidence if we are to impose such a measure on people. We also need to explore the possibility that the introduction of passports could exclude some sections of society, when its supposed intention is to support the entire UK population. Therefore, evidence sessions such as these are so important, it allows us to get a full picture before we make a decision and put our case to Government.” 

Co-chair Graham Stringer said:  “If the Government wishes to infringe on our freedoms, then it must have overwhelming evidence to do so. As yet that evidence does not exist and has not been produced and it should not be allowed to proceed without it.”

The APPG heard from Former Director of the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (Wales) Dr Roland Salmon, Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University David Paton, along with Dr David Bell, public health physician and former global coordinator of malaria diagnostics for the World Health Organisation (WHO). The scientists were joined by campaigner and Big Brother Watch’s Legal and Policy Officer Madeleine Stone.  

All four argued against the passes – which are thought to be being revived as part of Government’s Plan B if Covid cases keep rising. The group argued there was insufficient scientific and clinical evidence, being vaccinated did not stop transmission and the policy would cause significant economic damage and further damage public opinion in public health measures. 

Professor David Paton commented: “There is no obvious sign from countries that have already implemented similar certification schemes that there are any benefits in terms of reducing infections. But we know there will be huge costs to the economy; nightclubs in Scotland have reported trade levels dropping by almost half since the introduction of their vaccine passport scheme while leaked documents show that the Government itself estimates the cost of implementing Plan B in England to be between £11 billion and £18 billion.” 

Madeleine Stone branded the passes “authoritarian, invasive and unevidenced.” 

She told the MPs and Peers: “People who have decided not to be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated yet are disproportionately young, disproportionately from marginalised groups and are disproportionately disadvantaged. Penalising communities where there may already be deprivation and unemployment will only lead to further marginalisation and distrust.  

“Covid passes are a heavy-handed and invasive approach to public health. They pose an unacceptable risk to rights and individual liberties and could jeopardise trust in public health measures at a critical time.”

The APPG will hear further evidence on the topic from other interested bodies next month.

Notes to editors 

For information about the APPG and its membership visit

Covid passes could be part of Government’s plan B

Biographies of people giving evidence 

Dr Roland Salmon is a retired Consultant (Medical) Epidemiologist and former Director of the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (Wales) where he was responsible for the surveillance and investigation of outbreaks of infectious diseases as well as policy advice to the Government. He spent eight years as a member of the Department of Health’s Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP), including two years as acting chair and eight years as chair of its Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) Working Group. Recently, he has contributed to the COVID-19 debate, to date, via rapid responses in the British Medical Journal, a tribune-libre in Le Monde and letters to the London Review of Books, the Times, and the Western Mail. As a Crematorium Medical Referee, he has peer-reviewed publication, in Epidemiology and Infection of a survey of the patients dying from COVID-19 whose cremations we authorised during the first wave of the pandemic. The key findings of this study were an average (median) age of 82 years with a median of 2 other serious comorbidities, as well as a quarter of the infections being acquired in hospital and a further quarter in the care sector.

Professor David Paton is Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School. He has published widely in journals such as Economic Journal, Economica, Journal of Health Economics, Public Choice, Social Science & Medicine, Small Business Economics and the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation. He has acted as an adviser to several Government departments including HM Revenue and Customs, Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry and is currently co-editor of the International Journal of the Economics of Business. 

Dr David Bell is a public health physician formerly working on infectious diseases for the World Health Organization (WHO). He is also Chief Medical Officer of a US based diagnostics company. Previously, he was Director of Global Health Technologies at Bill Gates’ Global Good Fund in the USA. He has published extensively on healthcare and technology introduction in low and middle income countries.

Madeleine Stone, Legal and Policy Officer, Big Brother Watch. Her focus is on the impact of the emergency coronavirus powers on civil liberties. She has worked with a range of organisations which promote freedom of expression in the UK and globally, including English PEN, Index on Censorship and Lawyers Without Borders. She has also volunteered for organisations that support refugees across Europe, as well as volunteering with Big Brother Watch while completing her Master's degree. She received a BA in English and Related Literature at the University of York and an MA in Human Rights Law from SOAS, where she specialised in counter-terrorism policy, surveillance, and the right to privacy.

Big Brother Watch  
Big Brother Watch are a UK civil liberties campaign group fighting for a free future. They fight to reclaim privacy and defend freedoms at this time of enormous technological change. They are an independent, diverse, non-partisan and non-profit group of campaigners and researchers who work to roll back the surveillance state and protect rights in parliament, the media, or the courts. They publish unique investigations and pursue powerful public campaigns to affect real change. They work tirelessly to inform and empower the public to collectively reclaim privacy, defend civil liberties, and protect freedoms for the future.

Additional comments from the panel

Dr Roland Salmon said: "From a public health standpoint, it makes little sense to impose any kind of vaccine certification scheme. If the vaccine is to protect others around you, then it needs to greatly reduce transmission. Studies from Public Health England and Imperial College only show reductions in household transmission of 30-50%; not enough and even then, probably temporary. Thus, a policy of targeting vaccination to those at highest risk, allowing broader post-infection immunity to develop in the wider community to prevent spread is likely to be a much more effective approach."

Dr Bell said: “It is unclear what vaccine passports will achieve in the UK. We must recognise that unvaccinated people are unlikely to cause any more risk to others than the vaccinated, and perhaps less. We know that vaccinated people who become infected commonly have similar infectiousness as unvaccinated people, while Public Health England data indicates that vaccinated people over 30 years are now more likely to be infected than the unvaccinated. We also know that unvaccinated people will, in general, suffer more symptoms, so are more likely to abstain from community gatherings when infected, while infected vaccinated people continue to be active, potentially increasing risk to the vulnerable.”

View the full minutes for this meeting, held on Tuesday 16 November 2021.

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