Dec 14, 2021 - Health

Study: COVID vaccine passports boost uptake in countries with lower coverage

A person looking at the app for the New York State Excelsior Pass, which provides secure, digital proof of a Covid-19 vaccination, in front of a screen showing the New York skyline.
Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 vaccine passports led to increased vaccination uptake in countries with lower coverage — particularly among younger people, according to a study published in The Lancet Monday.

Why it matters: This is the first study to examine the impact of mandates that restrict access to venues such as restaurants and hair salons in response to the pandemic.

Driving the news: University of Oxford researchers examined six countries where "COVID-19 certification" required people to show proof of complete vaccination, negative test or a coronavirus recovery certificate to access public venues and events from April to September this year.

What they found: France, Israel, Italy and Switzerland, which started at lower-than-average vaccine coverage, saw a surge in vaccination rates 20 days before the mandates were imposed and 40 days afterward.

  • There was no significant effect in Germany, where vaccine coverage was already high, nor in Denmark where supply was limited.
  • "Increase in uptake was highest for people younger than 30 years after the introduction of certification," the study notes.
  • When Switzerland implemented restrictions for nightclubs and large events, the largest increases in inoculation were among people younger than 20 years old.

By the numbers: Researchers analyzed data showing the number of vaccine doses per million people increased by 127,000 in France, more than 243,000 in Israel, over 64,000 in Switzerland and in Italy the rise exceeded 66,000.

What they're saying: Study co-author Tobias Rüttenauer, from the University of Oxford, in a statement: "We know that certain groups have lower vaccine uptake than others and it may be that COVID-19 certification is a useful way to encourage vaccine complacent groups, like young people and men, to get vaccinated."

Yes, but: The authors note some limitations of their study, including no available data to examine vaccine uptake by sociodemographic, gender and ethnic group, and emphasized that COVID-19 certification policies across the countries studied differed for various reasons.

  • They acknowledge that the causes of vaccine hesitancy are diverse across countries, influenced by the historical experience of different social groups, which may limit the generalizability of their findings.
  • The authors wrote that policymakers considering vaccine passports should consider issues including the risk of exacerbating disparities among communities with lower uptake, generating inequality in access to public spaces where vaccine rollout is staggered by age and data privacy.

Worth noting: In the U.S., vaccine passports have become a point of contention, notably between Republicans and Democrats.

Between the lines: Flavio Toxvaerd, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge's faculty of economics who was not involved in the study, told Sky News the research "confirms that people respond to incentives, in this case incentives to get vaccinated."

  • "For those who are hesitant, different incentives can make the difference and requiring vaccine certification makes life for the unvaccinated more cumbersome," he said.

The bottom line: "COVID-19 certification is only part of a constellation of multiple policy levers that could be used to counter vaccine complacency and hesitancy and increase uptake," the researchers write in the study.

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