Covid passports could be 'counterproductive' and risk reducing vaccine take-up

Harry Yorke
·3-min read
"Unite For Freedom" Protest Against Vaccine Passports Held In London  - Hollie Adams/Getty Images Europe 
"Unite For Freedom" Protest Against Vaccine Passports Held In London - Hollie Adams/Getty Images Europe

The rollout of Covid passports could be “counterproductive” and risks reducing vaccine take-up among ethnic minorities, a Government scientific adviser has claimed.

Professor Stephen Reicher, who sits on the Sage sub-committee advising ministers on behavioural science, warned that emerging evidence suggested domestic certification appeared to be reducing the willingness of certain groups to be jabbed.

Appearing before the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, Prof Reicher pointed to “marginal communities” where levels of trust in Government had been historically low, in particular black people.

He also cautioned against focusing on entire population surveys, which show high levels of support for their use, pointing out that these included many people who had already received a vaccine or intended to receive one.

When looking more closely at those who are hesitant or undecided, Prof Reicher said these “critical populations” were more reluctant when it was suggested that certification could be used for “everyday activities”, such as going to the pub.

“It does look like from the evidence that we have that the critical populations that you want to get on board, you are actually pushing away,” he continued. “Which is actually undermining our key strategy, which is to get people vaccinated.”

However, the Parliamentary group also heard from Bill Bush, the executive director of the Premier League, who said that it would support using some form of Covid certification if the alternative was social distancing and smaller crowds.

Mr Bush added that current planning was for top-flight football matches to take place with stadiums at between 17 per cent and 18 per cent capacity, meaning that many clubs faced losing money.

He described a form of certification, provided it was voluntary, as "burdensome" but an "acceptable" way to allow fans to attend matches.

Prof Reicher’s intervention comes as ministers continue to explore the use of Covid passports both domestically and internationally, which will include members of the public providing proof of vaccination, a negative test or antibodies.

While no plans for domestic use have been finalised, the issue has divided opinion among MPs, with Tory lockdown sceptics fiercely opposed to widespread rollout across the economy.

David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, is among MPs who have warned that the proposals could be discriminatory.

Echoing their concerns, Prof Reicher said that while there was now widespread acceptance that vaccine passports will be needed to open up international travel, their use as a condition of entry in hospitality and entertainment venues, or to go to work, was more problematic.

Urging ministers to instead focus their efforts on continuing to increase vaccine uptake and making places Covid secure, he added: “Logically if everyone is vaccinated you don’t need a vaccine passport. You need vaccine passports only when there is limited uptake.”

“If a suggestion for a vaccine passport for basic activities reduces the amount of people who are willing to get vaccinated then it becomes counterproductive.”

His comments were echoed by Professor John Drury, a social psychologist at the University of Sussex, who said: "These schemes are intended – and if they work – [to] enable more safe access to more activities to more people.

"But by definition they exclude people and it's likely that some groups will be excluded more than other groups.

"There's lots of evidence that the public do support them for some areas of activity, international travel, live events I'm not so sure, but certainly not for others like going to the pub, going to the shops, and certainly not for work."