The government’s reported plan to enforce mandatory jabs for students before they can return to lectures or halls has triggered a fierce backlash, with student unions branding the idea “hugely discriminatory”.
Mr Johnson said to have been “raging” comparatively low levels of take-up of vaccines among younger Britons, and No 10 has not ruled out a requirement for proof of double-jabbed status for students.
Labour said banning unvaccinated students would be a “barrier to learning”. Kate Green, shadow education secretary, called on the government to stop the briefings and help more students get their jabs.
“It is essential that all eligible adults get their vaccine,” said Ms Green. “Instead of criticising young people, the Conservatives must get a grip and help them to get their jabs, including by setting-up vaccine centres on university campuses.”
The shadow education secretary added: “The chaos, delay and incompetence at the heart of Boris Johnson’s government is costing lives and has cost thousands of students their university experiences.
“Supporting all students to get double jabbed ahead of winter will help reduce disruption on campus and limit the spread of the virus, helping to protect the NHS as we head towards winter.”
Mr Johnson said on Tuesday that young people getting vaccinated would “help us all to move forward” – but claimed they were doing an “incredible job”.
Asked whether students would need to be fully vaccinated to attend lectures, the prime minister said: “I think that the young people of this country are doing an incredible job of coming forward to get vaccinations.”
He added: “The figures are outstanding. It’s almost 70 per cent now of 18-20 year-olds who have come forward to get jabs, it’s just wonderful.
Labour has called for the government to do more to promote the jab to young people – including making sure young workers are able to get time off to get vaccinated.
Some experts have warned that that mixed messages from the government have contributed to the reluctance of some younger people to come forward for jabs.
“We have seen stigmatising language being used which blames young people for not ‘doing the right thing’,” said medical anthropologist Dr Ben Kasstan of Bristol University.
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said making vaccinations compulsory as a condition to access their education would be “hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated, and international students”.
Liberal Democrats and backbench Conservatives have also attacked the idea. Tory MP Steve Baker, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), said: “It is an outrageous proposal, and one that doesn’t seem likely to do any good.”
Mr Baker added: “I believe the government is in terrible danger of splitting the Tory Party irretrievably, after all we have been through with Brexit.”