Major indoor venues in England will introduce Covid-19 vaccine passports by the end of September, according to UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
Zahawi told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the use of passports would help to keep hospitality industries open in the coming months. He said it was the right time to start such a scheme as all over-18s will have been offered two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine at this stage.
Zahawi said: “When the evidence that you are presented is so clear cut and we want to make sure the industry doesn’t have to go through [an]open-shut, open-shut sort of strategy, then the right thing to do is to introduce that by the end of September when all over 18-year-olds have had their two jabs.”
The news comes days after Scotland confirmed it would require vaccine passports for entry to many large indoor and outdoor venues later in September. Wales is not expected to follow suit.
Vaccine passports have proven to be a controversial idea throughout the pandemic, with Zahawi himself describing the idea as “discriminatory” in February this year.
Leisure industry executives have warned that the passports could “cripple the industry” and create conflict between customers and staff. Meanwhile, some MPs have opposed the move on libertarian grounds and because they fear backlash from vaccine-hesitant people.
In the same interview with Andrew Marr, Zahawi also said it was “very likely” that the government’s plans to offer a third Covid-19 booster jab to all over-50s and vulnerable people would be signed off this month. He also confirmed Covid-19 vaccinations would be compulsory for all NHS staff and said expanding the rollout of vaccines to 12- to 15-year-olds would “absolutely” be the right thing to do if recommended by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers. The UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recently recommended against rolling out vaccines to this age group universally.
Vaccine passports marred by logistical issues
Ethical opponents to vaccine passports, including the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), have warned that Covid status certificates could amount to unlawful discrimination and create a two-tier society of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Researchers from Imperial College London have also found a link between Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy and a perceived lack of free will over vaccine passports. A survey of 1,358 people across the UK and Israel found that people who feel their sense of autonomy unmet by government incentives like vaccine passports are less likely to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
Imperial College London lecturer and lead study author Dr Tayla Porat said: “If public health incentives like vaccine passports ‘frustrate’ psychological needs – for example by making people feel a lack of free will over their decisions – then they might paradoxically reduce people’s willingness to get vaccinated.”
Politicians and members of the public have also expressed concern about the logistical implementation of vaccine passports.
It is currently possible for people to show their vaccine status in England and Wales with the NHS Covid Pass, which can be accessed through the NHS app. Users can then select both domestic and travel pass options. People in Wales and Scotland can also request a paper copy of their vaccination status. Scots can also download or receive a paper QR code showing their status and people in Northern Ireland can apply for a certificate online to use for travel.
Poor communication between the different NHS bodies means that some people – for example, those who received one dose in Scotland and one in England – aren’t able to access these passes, and have little faith this will be resolved anytime soon.
don’t really have much faith that the uk as a whole can manage a vaxx passport scheme if having your doses in two different constituent nations breaks the entire system and there’s yet to be a resolution to this fairly glaring issue
— 𝔐𝔞𝔤𝔫𝔢𝔱𝔰 🧲 (@PerthshireMags) September 5, 2021
MSP for South Scotland Colin Smyth tweeted that a constituent of his can’t get a pass from ether NHS Scotland or NHS England, as she is registered with a GP in Scotland but received her vaccines through NHS Cumbria in England.
NHS Scotland won’t give my constituent a Covid passport as she works for NHS Cumbria where she had her vaccines. NHS England won’t give her a Covid passport as she lives and is registered with a GP in Scotland. She can’t go on holiday next week and will soon be excluded from more https://t.co/Eagyz6Fdyc
— Colin Smyth MSP (@colinsmythmsp) September 2, 2021
Molli Mitchell, who is Scottish and works in London, has not been able to access either the Scottish or English passes. Mitchell received her first vaccine via NHS Scotland in March but was in England and unable to return to Scotland when the time came for her second dose in May, so received it at a London walk-in clinic.
Mitchell says: “On the Scottish system it says I’ve only got one vaccine, which means I cannot get a full passport. In England there appears to be no trace of me giving my details that day at the walk-in centre, so I can’t get the English app.
“I understand we are devolved powers but Covid isn’t devolved and every time I speak to someone they tell me there is no system in place to combine the vaccines into one passport from different places. One guy even called Scotland an ‘overseas territory.’
“The stress and anxiety over the idea I won’t be able to live my life as a 25-year-old properly, despite having the full two doses of the vaccine, is actually pretty unbearable at points. I’m being completely ignored and I’m not the only one.”