Vaccine Passports


The British Government seems intent on pushing ahead with Vaccine Passports, for both international and domestic usage. Whilst I am reluctant to make it known to any travel authority the circumstances of my health, especially when other infectious diseases are allowed to travel unhindered, I do understand the logic behind international vaccine passports. What I cannot, and will not, abide by, is the introduction of domestic vaccine passports.

There seem to be very little logistical and practical justifications for the introduction of any kind of domestic passport, never mind the (clear absence of) medical justifications. My major objection, however, comes from the simple fact that I do not trust this government on the topic, because of the overwhelming number of U-turns they have made on the issue.

First, back in November of last year, there was a trademark filed for the use of a vaccine passport by the government. At the exact same time, the vaccine minister, Nadhim Zahawi, was insisting that there would be no introduction of domestic passports and this government was making no plans to. This was the first of many lies, but when prominent activist Calvin Robinson called the government out on this, they made no reply.

Then, in February of this year, Nadhim Zahawi once again ruled out the reports of vaccine passports on Good Morning Britain, in which he insisted there was no plan for the use of such a passport in “our domestic economy”. I’m not entirely sure what the specification of a domestic economy means, but I can imagine that it was regarding the idea circulating at the time that pubs, clubs and supermarkets might be required to issue vaccine passports.

Following this, merely two months later in April, it was reported that the personal office of Boris Johnson (bear in mind that there is no “office of the Prime Minister”, as the Prime Minister is merely a conventional office) was backing the introduction of a passport. There was no real justification given (and there still hasn’t been), but I think the Prime Minister was hoping that the high tide of public opinion would continue to be on their side.

Over the course of the succeeding months, on multiple occasions, it would be reported that the government slowly abandoned the plans for a domestic passport. At first there was an admission that they would discriminate in the effect of producing a “two-tier society”, on the issue of health. In many ways, such a society already exists – the rate at which children with Down Syndrome are aborted compared to “normal” children, is such an example – but the (correct) accusation that the government would be complicit in such discrimination gave it pause. Gradually, there was a steady climb down, until eventually it was announced that passports would not be needed.

Then, on the 19th of July, we had our much muted “Freedom Day”, as the final restrictions were lifted (which is itself a lie – public transport still requires masks, hospitality staff need to wear masks, and bubble-based isolation was still used in the final days of the school year). It was also announced that, in September, vaccine passports will be introduced. Boris Johnson claimed they would be needed for nightclubs, as well as “anywhere else large gatherings of people” would take place – which, surely, means that there becomes a moment at which the line is drawn, and a “large gathering” is reached – but there is no clear indication that such a critical mass is defined.

The most upsetting part, for myself, was the implication that churches and other places of worship would need them. Anyone who walks into a parish church knows the pews are already gutted, so if the government is keen on closing the last few hamlet churches, it will be doing a good job.

As the academic year approaches, there are increasing rumours that university places might be dependent on the possession of a vaccine passport. The University and College Union (UCU) is backing such a move.

There is no real way of stopping this, if the government is intent on it: the Coronavirus Act 2020 allows for the bypassing of a parliamentary vote on issues relating to COVID-19, with the caveat that every six months Parliament must vote to extend the act. This was a move denounced when introduced in Hungary, as the fashionable scapegoat of Europe.

There is the suggestion that vaccine passport proposals are there to scare the younger of us into getting our jabs, and incentivise 16–17-year-olds (who can, as of the 13th August, get theirs) to join the masses of vaccinated. Laura Dodsworth’s exceptional analysis of the pandemic of fear has lifted the curtain on the intentional use of scare-tactics to force a population too sceptical into submission.

All of this is, quite simply, proof that you cannot trust the government on the issue of the Covid vaccine passport’s very existence, never mind what it might be used for. Some might say that it is a “necessary measure” to introduce for the short term until the virus “goes away”, but of course “Target Zero” is impossible with an airborne disease, so what does it mean for the virus to go away? Is it for the death rate to fall to comparable levels with other diseases? Because if so, it already has.

When the Income Tax was introduced in 1798 by William Pitt, it was done with the proviso that it would be suspended once the war with Napoleon – and, later, the war of 1812 – would be won, requiring parliamentary confirmation at the beginning of every April. Well, the Income Tax is still with us, and every 6th of April, Parliament votes it back into existence. Who’s to say this won’t happen with anti-covid measures? In many ways, the anti-covid measures are now being recycled for a different purpose: not the climate crisis, as some alarmists have suggested, but for a much simpler cause, that of extending police powers.

But the most terrifying question is still to be asked: what will the government do with the details the vaccine passport demands and then creates? It will not only be able to create a massive database of the health of every individual, but it will also create a database of movement, location, habits and behaviour. And if you (naively) trust the government to use that data well – what happens when they sell that data?

Jake Scott is Chairman of the Mallard and Doctoral Researcher of Political Theory at the University of Birmingham.