COVID-19 vaccination certification scheme – frequently asked questions

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Since the announcement of the introduction of domestic vaccine certification in Scotland, SPICe has received enquiries on what the vaccine passport scheme will look like. This blog provides information to some of these questions.

This blog will be updated as and when more information on the scheme becomes available.

Last updated 28 September 2021

What is the Scottish Government’s vaccine certification scheme?

On 1 September 2021, the First Minister announced the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce a vaccine certification scheme once all adults have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.

Proposals for the scheme were published by the Scottish Government on 9 September 2021 and updated on 23 September. The scope of the scheme is as follows:

“The scheme will require a person seeking entry to certain venues and settings to show that they have been fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated means vaccinated with a MHRA recognised vaccine in line with the MHRA recommended number of doses for the vaccine used and two weeks has passed for the vaccine to take effect”

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulates the use of vaccines and other medicines in the UK.

Why is the Government introducing it?

The Deputy First Minister set out the Scottish Government’s rationale for mandatory vaccine certification in a statement to Parliament on 9 September:

“There is clear clinical evidence that double vaccination significantly reduces the likelihood that a person will get Covid-19.

There is clear clinical evidence that certain settings are associated with the risk of spikes in infections.  We know about the risks of settings where large numbers gather or people spend time close together, particularly indoors.

We also know that the activity associated with very large events will pose risks.  We saw for example, a marked spike around the Euro 2020 tournament.

Therefore ensuring only those who are double vaccinated attend those higher risk venues and events can directly reduce the risk of transmission in these settings.”

How will the scheme work?

Individuals who have been vaccinated in Scotland will be able to access and present their vaccination status through the forthcoming NHS Scotland COVID-19 Status app. The App screen will show a QR code for each vaccination.

The NHS Scotland COVID-19 Status app will be available for download from 30 September 2021.

In a letter to the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, the Minister for Parliamentary Business noted that a photograph will be needed for verification purposes.

In addition to the app, individuals can request a paper record with security features and a QR code for verification. Paper certificates will be able to be requested without the need to provide a photograph.

Individuals can obtain a copy of their vaccine status by calling the COVID-19 status helpline on 0808 196 8565.

Where will vaccine certification be required?

Vaccine certification will be required for the following settings:

  • late night venues with music, alcohol and dancing
  • live events: indoors unseated 500+ in the audience
  • live events: outdoors unseated 4,000+ in the audience
  • all live events: 10,000+ in the audience

For live events, ‘unseated’ includes events where some audience members are seated and some standing.

How are late night venues/nightclubs defined?

Under the updated guidance for the scheme, a late night venue or nightclub is included in the scheme if it meets all of the following criteria:

  • is open at any time between midnight and 0500
  • serves alcohol after midnight
  • has a dance floor or other designated space for dancing; and
  • provides live or recorded music, for dancing

An eligible venue that ceases to meet any of the above criteria would no longer require to operate with vaccine certification.

How are live events defined?

The updated guidance for the scheme states the scheme will use the same definition of ‘live event’ as used by the Scottish Government throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, set out in the latest guidance as:

“events or activities which bring individuals together for the purpose of community, culture, sport, recreation, entertainment, art, fundraising, or business.”

There are some exceptions to this definition. The scheme will not include the following events:

  • worship
  • funerals, marriage ceremonies or civil partnerships and related post ceremony gatherings
  • mass participation events such as a marathon, triathlon, or moonwalk
  • a demonstration, protest or picket
  • a public or street market
  • an illuminated trail
  • free events in public open spaces with no fixed entry points (for example a free firework display in a public park, or a common riding event, or a march or parade)
  • certain business events that individuals are required to attend for work purposes (only the core, essential business element of the event, including refreshment and meal breaks, will be excepted from certification – any peripheral reception or function outside the core hours of the event would not be excepted, should it meet the criteria for certification, whether or not alcohol is served)
  • ‘closed door’ business or trade events, not open to the public for leisure purposes, will be excepted from certification, including refreshment and meal breaks during the day – this means that essential business events such as livestock markets will be excepted.

Who will be exempt?

The Scottish Government is proposing the following exemptions to the scheme:

  • under 18s (to be kept under review)
  • participants in vaccine trials where the vaccine has not yet been approved by the MHRA
  • people unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons
  • the person responsible for the premises
  • employees at venues within scope of the scheme
  • emergency services responders and regulators carrying out their work.

The Scottish Government is developing a process for approval of medical exemptions.

Who will enforce the scheme?

Staff at venues subject to the scheme will verify a customer’s QR code using a free verifier app on a smartphone or device. The NHS Scotland Covid Check app (for verifiers) is currently available for download.

When the scheme goes live, the Scottish Government advises that staff will be able to access an entrant’s name, date of birth and vaccination data on the app.

Guidance for businesses and event organisers was issued on 28 September 2021.

The regulations will impose a legal obligation on the business to take “all reasonable measures” to ensure that only those fully vaccinated or exempt in settings where certification is required are on the premises. The regulations will also require relevant business owners to have regard for guidance issued by the Scottish Government.

In her statement to Parliament on 21 September, the First Minister outlined the Scottish Government’s expectations on businesses to check customers entering the premises:

“At a venue such as a nightclub, or at a relatively small event, we expect that it will be possible to check vaccine certificates for everyone in attendance.

However at larger events, organisers will be expected to carry out a reasonable number of checks. We are working with businesses and environmental health officers to provide specific advice and guidance on the level of checks that should be considered both reasonable and effective to fulfil the public health objective of certification.”

Are there any sanctions for those who do not comply with the Scheme?

The updated guidance states the incoming regulations will set out a new offence for where a person operating a premises does not take reasonable measures to restrict entry. The guidance also notes:

“We do not propose to impose new legal responsibilities on individuals or to create any new offences for individuals attending the event, but we will keep this under review. It is possible that an individual attending an event who presents falsified information may commit an offence under the existing law.”

Will testing be included as an alternative to vaccination?

The Scottish Government’s vaccine certification strategy states that, initially, the scheme will not permit a negative test result to be offered as an alternative to evidence of vaccination. This is to be kept under review.

How will the scheme work for people who have been vaccinated outside Scotland?

For persons who have been vaccinated in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the Scottish Government states:

“Visitors from the rest of the UK – and the broader [Common Travel Area] (including Republic of Ireland) – will be able to use their existing Covid Status apps with QR codes (and paper-based certificates) to gain entry to relevant venues in Scotland.”

In her statement to Parliament on 28 September, the First Minister noted:

“Proof of a full course of vaccination will be accepted at venues for domestic purposes. Proof of vaccination will be accepted from across the UK and from Crown dependencies, as well as from members of the European Union Covid certification scheme. Tourists from other nations—for example, the United States—will need to provide the same proof of vaccination status that is currently accepted for entry into the UK.”

How will the scheme be reviewed?

The updated guidance to the scheme sets out the following timetable for reviewing the regulations:

“Ministers must review the regulations at least every three weeks to assess whether any requirement in the regulations is still necessary to prevent, protect against, control or provide a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection in Scotland with coronavirus. As soon as Ministers consider the requirements to no longer be necessary for this purpose, they must be revoked.”

Comparisons to other vaccine passport schemes

The Ada Lovelace Institute (an independent research institute which examines policy on data and artificial intelligence) is monitoring the development of vaccine passports and COVID-19 status apps around the world.

France, Greece, Ireland and Italy, among others, currently operate national vaccine and testing certification schemes to varying degrees. For example, under the Greek system, cinemas, museums, and gyms can allow entrance to people who have negative tests not older than 48-hours.

Vaccine certification programmes are also in operation in sub-national areas, such as the US State of New York’s Excelsior Pass.

In Wales, proof of vaccination will be required to enter nightclubs and some events from 11 October 2021.

In England, the UK Government is consulting on a proposed vaccination certification scheme which could be introduced as part of its Plan B strategy.

When will the scheme start?

The Scottish Government states the scheme will come into effect on Friday 1 October 2021 (from 5 am).

However, in a statement to Parliament on 28 September the First Minister announced that legal enforcement of scheme will not start until 18 October 2021:

“This period, effectively a grace period, will allow businesses to test, adapt and build confidence in the practical arrangements they will need to put in place to be compliant with the scheme.”

What happens next?

The Scottish Parliament approved the implementation of a COVID Vaccine Certification scheme on 9 September 2021.

Using the powers under the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, the Scottish Government will lay regulations to parliament for scrutiny, alongside an equality impact assessment and a business and regulatory impact assessment.

In a letter to the Convener of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, the Minister for Parliamentary Business noted the Government’s intent to lay the regulations in the ‘made affirmative procedure’. SSIs subject to the ‘made affirmative procedure’ come into force immediately and must be approved by parliament within 28 days in order to remain in force.

Alisdair Grahame, Enquiries Officer