We are pleased to share our latest research published in the Technology in Society journal, analyzing attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccine passports. The research was a collaborative team effort and was led by our lab Director, Dr. Laeeq Khan. Due to the uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic, numerous countries have attempted to put in place systems to shield their economies and citizens from the pandemic’s worst effects. Agencies, governments, and schools are all working to discover ways to persuade individuals to be vaccinated.

Various health agencies have suggested that COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective way to deal with the pandemic and prevent the virus from spreading. As a result, a vaccination card known as the Covid-19 passport has been introduced in various countries serving as proof of immunization. A vaccine passport or certificate has proven helpful in multiple situations, particularly while traveling to foreign nations. International health authorities and some governments (such as the European Union, the United Kingdom, and China) have already adopted COVID-passports, which now act as certifications to formalize and verify vaccination status. Several arguments have been expressed on numerous forums against some of these measures, which seem restrictive and infringe on personal freedoms and rights. However, including introducing some form of certification or the COVID passport is seen by others as part of the ongoing attempt to restore economies and lives to normalcy.

The study employed the Health Belief Model (HBM) and the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to offer an exploratory analysis of Twitter data about COVID-19 passports. We analyzed Tweets about the COVID-19 passport. A total of 19,730 tweets were retrieved using Twitter API, and keywords COVID* or corona* AND passport OR certificate. We further coded the analytical sample according to nine dimensions: (i) account type (male, female, or organization); (ii) tweeter occupation; (iii) tweet content (personal opinion, news & information, and link to a petition or a poll; (iv) tweet modality (text, URL/link, image, and/or video; (v) attitude (positive, negative, neutral; (vi) self-efficacy (whether the tweet implied knowledge, confidence, or information of how to get the COVID passport; (vii) perceived barriers; (viii) perceived benefits; and (ix) cues to action.

The study found that most Twitter users thought that the COVID-19 passport was a good idea. The analysis also revealed that personal Twitter accounts accounted for 49 percent of COVID-19 passport tweets, followed by media organizations with 23.87 percent, media and art celebrities with 14.19 percent, politicians with 4.5 percent, and the tourism industry with 2.58 percent. According to gender, 52 percent of the tweets came from men, 16.1 percent from women, and the rest came from unidentified accounts or groups. Supporters of the vaccine passport also saw it as nothing new, claiming a range of social and economic benefits to justify their position.

The findings reveal the path forward in establishing a viable COVID-19 passport system. The COVID-19 passports are clearly aimed towards resuming international trade, travel, and other social activities in the wake of the current epidemic without risking public health and safety. The study offers the following policy recommendations:

  1. Define specific use-cases: The uses of vaccine passports need to be clearly defined and rationalized to alleviate public concerns about employers’ discrimination and ensure equitable access to business and government services.
  2. Ensure interoperability: Adopted solutions must be interoperable and should leverage standards that enable the seamless exchange of information across disparate technology platforms and different geographic boundaries.
  3. Safeguard personal and health data: Data protection and privacy requirements should be seriously considered and openly communicated to alleviate concerns about data breaches, fraud, and forgery and disallow technology used for tracking and surveillance.
  4. Establish legal guidelines: Clear laws that define the scope of vaccine passport programs and their permissible use, along with a timeline for the planned duration of such programs, would help improve public confidence and achieve greater acceptance.
  5. Community consultation and engagement: Public dialogue can help reduce tensions in implementing vaccine passport programs. Engaging trusted community members can help foster trust in the program and improve the uptake of vaccine passports.

The abstract of the study is as follows:

In several countries, vaccine passports are being encouraged to hasten the return to some form of normalcy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. A vaccine passport is a digital or paper document that may serve as proof of the COVID-19 vaccine, thereby allowing entry to public venues, sporting events, air travel, and unrestricted access to other facilities. This study explores how the COVID-19 passport is being discussed and perceived on Twitter and the prominent entities involved in the early discourse on the issue. Twitter messages were theoretically analyzed for Health Belief Model (HBM) and Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) variables, as well as message source, engagement, and attitudes towards vaccination certificates. Using quantitative content analysis, tweets were coded on nine dimensions: account type, tweeter profile, tweet content, tweet modality, attitude, self-efficacy, perceived barriers, benefits, and action cues. Most of the tweets originated from personal accounts, followed by media organizations, media-related personalities, politicians, and the travel industry. A significant number of tweets were from male Twitter users. Our analysis revealed that most tweeters had a favorable attitude towards the COVID-19 passports. Unfavorable attitudes toward the COVID-19 passport were based on reasons such as a lack of common standard or consensus and personal freedoms & human rights. Tweets highlighting the benefits of COVID-19 passports cited travel as the primary reason. Based on a combination of technical, legal, and ethical practices, our study offers a set of vital recommendations for governments, health organizations, and businesses that may help stimulate the acceptance of vaccine passports.

Khan, M. Laeeq, Malik, A., Ruhi, U, & Al-Busaidi, A. (2021). Conflicting attitudes: Analyzing social media data to understand the early discourse on COVID-19 passports, Technology in Society, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techsoc.2021.101830