As of March 2021, in the short term the number of people prevented from attending by vaccine certification is likely to exceed the number of people it persuades to attend.

This hypothesis is based on analysis of questions about demographic profile, vaccination status and attitudes about attending events in the near future.

The government is consulting on whether to implement vaccine certification for cultural (and other) venues. The intention is that this would enable cultural audiences to return in significant numbers’, partly due to it enabling reduction or removal of social distancing measures.

This proposed approach has been challenged by many in the industry on a range of grounds, both:

  • legal and ethical (particularly that it would prove discriminatory),
  • and practical (that it could costly, difficult and high-risk to implement).

Aside from these important questions, we at The Audience Agency have evidence that leads us to question whether it would even be effective in achieving the stated goals in the short term.

This evidence comes from the Cultural Participation Monitor, part of a national research programme led by the Centre for Cultural Value in collaboration with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and The Audience Agency.

The monitor:

  • surveys a representative sample of the population every couple of months,
  • is focused on what they’ve done culturally (both in person and online), their opinions and wider experiences,
  • and asks about the time before, during and, looking forwards to after the pandemic.

In particular, we have focused on questions (from the second wave, fieldwork 16th to 22nd February 2021) about:

  • How willing the public is to attend events overall, particularly who is less certain about attending, one way or another (and hence open to persuasion by the right measures and messages).
  • Which types of people are more or less likely to be willing to attend.
  • Which types of people would be affected by vaccine certification (in terms of having been vaccinated or not) and how they related to willingness to attend.

Willingness to Attend

We asked people, once lockdown’s over, if there was something cultural that they wanted to see, which of the following statements best described how they felt:

  • Happy to attend – 27%
  • Would consider it, with reservations – 31%
  • Not comfortable, until there’s a reduction in risk – 24%
  • Not comfortable, until COVID is virtually eliminated – 11%
  • Not interested in doing this – 7%

Wave 2 willingness to attand post lockdown.png

Survey sample = 1,533

Respondents choosing the top and two bottom options had a clear opinion (whether yes or no) without further caveats. But it’s the other two groups (who’d consider it with reservations — about a third — or aren’t comfortable until there’s a reduction in risk — about a quarter) who might be swayed by particular measures. If vaccine passports are to increase audiences, they would need to encourage sufficient additional people to attend than it prevents.

Additional attenders could come from vaccinated people among either those who would consider [attending] with reservations, or those who werenot comfortable until there was a reduction in risk. Those prevented would be those who couldn’t attend under a vaccine certification scheme due to a lack of vaccination, either among those who said would be happy to attend, or those who said that they would consider attending (if they in fact would have done).

Unpicking what people would do in practice is difficult, but we can at least look at which groups are more likely to be closer to attending and how that relates to those who are more or less likely to be allowed to, under a vaccine certification scheme.

Who is More or Less Likely to be Willing to Attend

  • Those who are ‘happy to attend, and those who would consider it with reservations, tend to be younger, live in households with families and not have been vaccinated yet.
  • Those who say they are ‘not comfortable until there has been a considerable reduction in risk’ are more likely to be older, not have children in the household, to have been shielding during the pandemic and to have been vaccinated (as of 22/2).
  • These differences by age are also reflected in those who did return once they could last summer (see our report Between Lockdowns for more details).
  • This means that the groups that are most likely to attend, all else being equal, are most likely to be prevented if there is a vaccine certification scheme.

Who the Vaccine Certification Would Affect

When we look at vaccination, age is of course the key split:

% vaccinated end of Feb 2021.png

Survey sample = 1,533

This also results in vaccination rates varying by art form, in terms of which are more or less likely to have been vaccinated than the general population (e.g. plays, classical music, opera yes; live gigs, outdoor arts no). But those who’ve attended during COVID (where possible) look [with a caveat about sample size] more likely to be younger and be as-yet-unvaccinated (this also matches the profiling from Between Lockdowns).

Vaccination Table.png

Proportion of the Population by Vaccine Status and Willingness to Attend

The above table shows the proportions of the whole population who are vaccinated or not, by their responses to this question. The 20% who are currently ‘happy to attend’ but not vaccinated (dark red) is larger than all of those who are vaccinated and who would either ‘consider it with reservations’ or who ‘wouldn’t be comfortable until there was a reduction in risk’ (light green). On this basis, it is hard to see how vaccine certification would increase total numbers attending.

Further, for both of those ‘persuadable’ groups, there are more people who have not been vaccinated (light red) than have been (light green). It is also particularly significant that those who ‘would consider, with reservations’ are more heavily composed of unvaccinated people, since these are likely to require less additional persuasion to attend. Making people who are very uncomfortable attending (only) a bit less uncomfortable attending is unlikely to make much difference on actual attendance levels.

This overall picture, that certification can be expected to prevent more attenders than it encourages, is only likely to change once substantially larger (and younger) proportions of the population have been vaccinated.


  • The above evidence suggests that it is unlikely that vaccine certification could increase overall engagement from these ‘persuadable’ groups, let alone displace those from the ‘happy to attend’ group who would not then be able to attend.
  • The evidence leads us to be sceptical about potential increases in audiences as a result of the policy in the short term, at least until the proportion (and profile) of the population vaccinated has substantially changed.
  • There could, of course, be advantages in a vaccine certification scheme in terms of reducing transmission rates from events, or in allowing events to happen at all that otherwise couldn’t. This would, though, need to be offset against disadvantages of the scheme (in terms of equality and practicality, for example, as mentioned earlier).
  • This tipping point (where certification would encourage more than it prevents) is very likely to arrive in due course. If, however, the government, as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has stated, "would never look to do [certification] on a permanent basis, it’s just whether it might be a tool in the short run" to aid reopening, then these findings raise a question as to whether it will come soon enough, or long enough before all adults are vaccinated, to be useful.

This report is part of a national research programme led by the Centre for Cultural Value in collaboration with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and The Audience Agency.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through UK Research and Innovation’s COVID-19 rapid rolling call.