There is naturally lots of anxiety around the efficacy of Covid vaccines.

As new Covid vaccines get approved and more data becomes available, there’s a risk that people will start looking at the numbers with a “shopping mentality” – comparing percentages points and picking favourites.

This may lead to a dangerous scenario where some people refuse to take a particular vaccine which is safe and approved for use, but which has a (perceived) lower efficacy due to early published results and/or media hype.

We need to urge the public not to take on this “shopping mentality”. It’s crucial that we don’t focus too much on which one is the most effective, and simply take advantage of what’s proven to be safe and available to us now. Time is of an essence here.

Here are just a few reasons for that:

  • All Covid vaccines are new, which means the current numbers are prone to change as more people get vaccinated;
  • Different vaccines may have different levels of efficacy in different populations and age groups, so a vaccine may be more useful in one context, and less so in another;
  • It’s highly likely that people will be able to take further vaccines if it later becomes apparent that one type is substantially more effective than the others;
  • Whatever the efficacy, it’s always preferable to have some chance of protection than no chance at all, especially in the context of growing infection rates.

As long as a vaccine has been approved by the MHRA, FDA, or other national health authority, it will be effective and safe.

Right now, it’s the action of getting vaccinated that will have the most impact, not the particular vaccine used. If we are to take control of this virus, it’s imperative that we get the vaccination rate as high as possible.

Using Covid vaccination records

The issue that sits alongside this is how we record people’s vaccination status in a way that preserves their privacy and allows them to maintain control over their data, while freeing up society safely. In other words, how we can make vaccination records more broadly useful.

Receiving the vaccine is the first step. However, to reap the full social benefits of worldwide inoculation we must also ensure that vaccination records can be used to reduce the risk of infection across social spaces – without compromising the security and privacy of personal data.

In the UK, the proposed NHS Covid-19 Vaccination Card has been described by Full Fact as “very unreliable evidence” due to the ease with which it can be altered. Moreover, it’s usefulness is unclear, as there will be no requirement to carry it, nor any indication that it may be recognised outside the narrow scope of getting a second dose.

This leaves out a myriad cases where a single trusted, standardised record could create safe access, like in airports, hotels, factories, events, and many others.

We urgently need to talk about self-sovereign solutions that allow individuals to prove their vaccination status without having to disclose their full identity.

It’s only this type of solution, alongside rapid on-site testing for those who cannot (or choose not to) get vaccinated, that will enable us to safely free up society while maintaining efforts to control the virus.

That is a conversation that the UK and many other government have shied away from so far, but one that needs to be had now.