Tuesday 6 April 2021

Will vaccine passports work?

Boris Johnson has alluded to the fact that vaccine passports may be introduced. There has been a near hysterical response in some parts of the media and amongst the less well informed members of Twitter. Apparently this is outrageous, it damages our civil liberties and is all part of a dodgy plan to bring in a Fascist state.

I have to say that I personally can't get worked up about such things. I've travelled extensively and it is nothing new to be forced to prove you've had a vaccination before you visit some countries.This is part of the visa application process.  I have no problem with this. I think any nation should have the right to insist that people entering from other nations do not bring in deadly diseases. 

Of course the vaccine passport concept causing all of the froth is not really one to allow you to travel abroad. It will be an internal UK certificate that will mean you can gain entry to events with large numbers of people. As I will be innoculated as soon as possible, I've had the first shot and am awaiting the second, on a personal, selfish level, I'd be quite happy if this meant I could go back to the pub, whilst we await the rest of the nation to get a jab. I know for a fact that young people, who are not being offered the jab yet, feel very different. In truth, if a vaccine passport is offered before every citizen has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, it will not be fair and equitable. Discriminating against people on the basis that they have randomly been selected for a jab seems to me highly problematic and likely to cause resentment and possibly even civil unrest. As such, I would not support the introduction of vaccine passports before the nation has been inocculated.

This then leads on to the second question. What about after everyone has had the opportunity? I've read that the concept of herd immunity kicks in when around 75% of the population has antibodies. As vaccine take up is likely to be about 90%, on practical level there is not likely to be a huge amount of benefit to be had from insisting on vaccine passports in public health terms. When the rollout is finished, there will be two groups. Those who can't take a vaccine for medical reasons and those who elect not to take the vaccine. I don't think too many people would want to see any restrictions on people who cannot take the vaccine.  As for the anto vaxxers? I suspect that the majority will be less sympathetic, even if they claim that "The pandemic is over". 

However, if you delve further into the matter, most of those who are refusing to take the jabs are from specific communities, so in these small pockets, there is likely to be a far greater risk to these groups. In a free country, how free are you to expose yourself to risk? We fine people for talking on mobile phones and for not wearing seatbelts. These are restrictions on freedom, yet not too many people get het up about them. 

There is a school of thought that says "If I've had a vaccine and I've done my bit, why should people who don't have the same freedoms, if they could get infected and possibly help a mutation that re-energises the pandemic, be allowed to benefit". I have some sympathy with that position, but in reality of they pose a minimal risk to me in a pub, club or football match, is it not just being spiteful?

There are several places where I think a vaccine passport should be considered. Firstly anyone working in care homes and hospitals. Given that no vaccine is 100% effective, anything that puts the vulnerable at less risk is, to my mind, fair. The second is people travelling to and from countries where there is a higher rate of Covid than the UK. I just cannot see any reasonable argument for letting people risk re-importing the vaccine. The third area where I think a case can be made is for people in jobs that expose them to large numbers of people in confined spaces. The jobs that come to mind are people working in hospitality,  vicars, teachers and transport workers. These people interact with a lot of other people and present the opportunity to spread the disease. Whilst if I go to the pub, I will sit with my 4-5 friends, the person behind the bar may come in contact with dozens of people. 

I think that people running organisations that come into contact with large numbers of people have a responsibility and a duty of care to their customers. If 10% of the public don't get vaccinated, a pub that has 2-300 people in may well have 20-30 people who are not vaccinated. A single member of staff may well come into contact with all of them, if they are a door staff etc After a week, that is over 1,000 people. I don't think that it's entirely unreasonable to minimise that risk. Whilst it is perfectly possible that a vaccinated person may be asymptomatic and transmitting the disease, the studies have shown that this is massively reduced, as the bodies antibodies lessen the virulence of the infection. 

So to sum up, my personal view is that for the general population, in the UK, vaccine passports don't really add any benefit and may be divisive, but there are specific jobs etc, where there may be (and the government should provide justifications) specific jobs where this does add value. If this can be demonstrated, I would support them. I want to see us emerge from lockdown as soon as safely possible and I would support measures which reduced the risk of a resurgence. I do not believe that people should be stigmatised for not being vaccinated, whatever the reason, but as with seat belts, if there is a demonstrable public health gain, I'd support it in the limited circumstances I've outlined. 

However, until we have details of the scheme and the justifications, it would be foolish to get too deeply into an argument. 

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