An update on computer says no

“I had my first jab in Wales, my second in England, and now I’m unable to get a vaccine passport due to issues with communication between the two systems”.

Jasneet Samrai

Earlier this week we released a paper, entitled “Computer says no.” It’s a piece of research that I want to write more about, with numerous developments that have happened since the release of the publication and additional analysis that I would like to add on. Publishing this paper, compared to some of the others that we have published as Centre Think Tank, was one that was incredibly challenging- with it being about a constantly moving area of policy. This sadly meant a lot of constant edits for me, but also that we knew parts would become inaccurate rather quickly.

The reason I decided to participate in the argument about vaccine passports was originally motivated by the situation that I find myself in. I had my first jab in Wales, my second in England, and now I’m unable to get a vaccine passport due to issues with communication between the two systems. The jab I had in England hasn’t even been inputted into the English system yet, due to issues that the vaccine centre had with viewing my records, so it was kept as hard data as the taccine centre.

People like me are disadvantaged by the current way that vaccine passports are being implemented. There’s very little that we can do to solve the situation- reliant on the powers that be for a solution and our issue to be solved. The paper came about because I wanted to do some research into an area that has been forgotten within the vaccine passport debate. We always talk about ideological reasons that some might oppose vaccine passports- with them being viewed as being authoritarian and dystopian, but what we don’t talk about is the practicality of implementing such a scheme and how people may be excluded from one.

This is what the paper does. It focuses on how people fell through the net due to the way in which information is communicated across the NHS and has been during the coronavirus vaccine rollout. A key section of the paper involved talking to several people who have been impacted by communication system issues, with these resulting in them either being unable to get their vaccines or having major issues when trying to do so.

These people can be split into three main categories, which are the following:

  1. People who had problems accessing their second dose in one UK nation after having their first dose in another.
  2. People who are unable to book their coronavirus vaccines as they are due to move from one nation to another in-between vaccine doses.
  3. People who have had issues with internal communication between different NHS communication systems within a nation.

Both the second and third categories remain issues and appear unchanged to how they appeared in the paper. It is the first category in which there have been some developments, with this being a category that has appeared increasingly in the public eye this week. This is due to an article that appeared in the BBC about a Scottish student who is unable to get a vaccine passport, after having first dose in London and her second in Glasgow. One thing that interests me about this story is the comment from NHS Scotland in the piece, that they have “worked to align” the data.

This is perhaps the first public acknowledgement from any NHS body that there has been a data-sharing issue between different NHS system, and that work has already had to be done to mitigate that. The other thing that is significant this week is that a similar alignment of data seems to be happening this week in Wales, with some people who previously contacted us about difficulties saying that NHS Wales allowed them to log their second dose details over the phone- which previously hasn’t been allowed. This rule change, although seemingly minor, is one that shows that the NHS is taking steps to sort this issue- but in a way that is quick and without proper validation. The fact that there is no proper validation would suggest that there is some kind of data sharing issue, if there wasn’t it should be relatively easy to just send the data across. So, in a nutshell, whilst this solution by NHS Wales is a way in which people are able to be caught, it is also one that is worrying due to it potentially being open fraudulent data. Whilst its good in the short-term and in this emergency situation, it is proof in itself that NHS communication systems need to improve.

Whilst it’s a good first step, the other major problem with this solution is its implementation. It hasn’t been formally announced, there are many people who have previously been contacted by NHS Wales and were told that they were unable to give this data over the phone. Therefore, there needs to be better communication and a way in which people are easily able to log their records and self-contact their health board. Moreover, this has only been done in one nation- the others need to reciprocate it too to ensure that people within their borders aren’t caught out.

In conclusion, there are still some major issues with the vaccine rollout, with some people still unable to get their vaccine passport despite having had both doses. However, there is also some hope- with some people being provided with a way in which to get their vaccines logged. Hopefully, this is replicated in the other UK nations, backdated, and widely publicized to ensure that nobody is disadvantaged.

Written by Jasneet Samrai, the Deputy Director for Centre. They have worked as a campaign organiser and helped to elect 3 MEP’s.

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