• NHSX exploring the use of immunity passports for people who have had coronavirus 
  • Organisation has been approached by a number of companies who can provide the tech 
  • Widely discussed contact tracing app to be launched within weeks 

NHSX is exploring the potential for creating “immunity passports” for members of the public who are thought to be immune to coronavirus, despite their use being a long way off, the organisation has said.

Chief executive of NHSX Matthew Gould told the Commons science and technology committee yesterday (28 April) that he has been approached by “any number of organisations” who can provide the tech.

He added that NHSX is in the “very early stages” of looking through the solutions that are available, although the organisation is not “not at the point” where tech for immunity passports are actually being built.

He also implied that there is not currently evidence for the need for immunity passports, stating “I wouldn’t want the tech cart to come before the horse”.

Issuing certificates to people who have had coronavirus to signal immunity to the illness has been discussed internationally as having potential to be part of lockdown exit strategies. However, WHO has warned that there is currently “no evidence” that people who have had the virus have antibodies which mean they are immune from a second infection.

Speaking during the committee, Mr Gould said: “The science is a considerable way from being able to underpin something like that, so we are not at a point where we are building [immunity passports].

“We have been approached by any number of people offering us solutions in this area and we are at the very early stage of looking through the solutions, looking at what’s available. But here I wouldn’t want the tech cart to come before the horse.

“We need to look at what it is we are trying to achieve, what the science is going to allow us to do, what the policy is, then we would be able to work out what tech underpinning that needs, and whether that will be NHSX or another part of the machine doing it is not yet clear.”

Responding to a question on whether the immunity passports would require a facial recognition check, Mr Gould said he had “not seen any plans” to use that technology but added “we are so far from being able to get into that level of detail”.

The news follows widely discussed NHSX plans to roll out a coronavirus contact tracking app which will alert users if they have been in close proximity with someone who has been infected.

Mr Gould said the app is part of a “broader” exit from lockdown strategy to keep the public safe, alongside testing and ongoing social distancing measures.

It is expected to be rolled out within the next three weeks, after a trial on a smaller area.

Mr Gould said: “We are working at it full pelt. We hope in the next couple of weeks will be in the position to roll it out in a small area.

“Given this is essential new technology and part of a wider strategy with several moving parts it makes sense to see how it might work locally rather than nationally.”