An inconvenient truth - vaccine passports don't work
Celebrities don’t speak for the rest of us when they tell us that vaccine passports are not "inconvenient". We know that they are also illiberal and ineffective.
Piers Morgan recently tweeted that when he was in New York, vaccine passports were “a tiny inconvenience to keep the economy going”. This non sequitur misses the point.
“Inconvenience” isn’t on my list of objections to vaccine passports. Depending on the country you live in, proving vaccine status to a bouncer to enter a nightclub or restaurant, to pass through a bank’s turnstile, to attend school, or even to work, is a major paradigm shift.
Karren Brady described flashing her vaccine passport while on a jaunt to Italy as “a fuss-free process that takes only seconds”. She prescribes a “far more difficult, inconvenient and restricted life, one that will also be more expensive because of mandatory testing” for refuseniks.
Andrew Neil goes further and recommends, “It's time to punish Britain's five million vaccine refuseniks” if they won’t submit to the same “very minor inconvenience” he gladly submits to while dining out in the south of France.
Almost as if they sing from the same song sheet they describe in unison how easy it is to use a vaccine passport, as though persuading recalcitrant children - “Come, do as you are told dear, it is so easy!” They dangle a subliminal and aspirational reward, since all their examples involve international travel and accessing leisure activities. And on the other end of that carrot are sticks in the form of social ‘othering’, exclusion and financial penalties.
These celebrities do not speak for those of us opposed to vaccine passports. Our resistance is not contingent upon inconvenience, rather private medical information becoming public, coercion versus informed consent, segregation versus inclusiveness, and an illiberal policy versus evidence-based public health.
Does Brady think that huge protests about the Green Pass in Italy were about the inconvenience of brandishing a QR code to enter a restaurant? Italian life has changed utterly with vaccine status now determining access to employment, culture and public transport.
The Green Pass in Italy was first introduced in August for gyms, swimming pools, sport stadia, cinemas and indoor dining. It permitted recovery from Covid, the Covid vaccination and - crucially - a negative lateral flow test (LFT). By December, the Green Pass was superseded by the Super Green Pass which no longer allowed for LFTs. The validity of the vaccine certificate was shortened from 12 months to nine, fast-forwarding the requirement for boosters. The basic Green Pass was extended for more purposes and is now needed for public transport and even to attend baptisms, communions and weddings.
A Green Pass is required to work in Italy. The reality of the “more expensive life” that Brady advocates means that unvaccinated people on basic wages must pay for LFTs every couple of days in order to earn a living. But vaccination is now mandatory for many jobs, including healthcare workers, police, teachers and the military.
Celebrities can disingenously pretend that protestors fear “inconvenience” but there is a far more serious list of objections:
Covid-19 vaccines protect the vaccinated from serious disease, but data now show unequivocally that none of the vaccines prevent you catching or transmitting Coronavirus, which would be the basis for introducing the Covid Pass. Most recently, a study published in The Lancet concluded that breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people can efficiently transmit infection in the household setting.
The concluding paragraph is very important, and ruins the public health case for Covid Passes:
“Although current vaccines remain effective at preventing severe disease and deaths from COVID-19, our findings suggest that vaccination alone is not sufficient to prevent all transmission of the delta variant.”
Mandatory Covid Passes go against the advice of the UK Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) report into Covid-19 status certification, which found that the government could not make a strong scientific case for vaccine passports, and that they would be discriminatory.
The Government has failed to provide a cost benefit analysis or an impact assessment for public scrutiny.
The Covid Pass would be discriminatory on the grounds of race, religion and socio-economic status, as reported by PACAC.
The Covid Pass will damage the economy as it is impractical for many businesses to implement and deters customers. Trade in Scottish nightclubs was reduced by 46% in the first week after introduction.
The vast majority of the UK adult population have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and, according to the Office of National Statistics, nine out of ten adults have antibodies to Covid-19, so any Covid Pass scheme introduced at this point would be costly, with only diminishing returns.
The Covid Pass damages informed consent. The Council of Europe resolution on Covid-19 vaccines urges Member States to “ensure that citizens are informed that the vaccination is not mandatory and that no one is under political, social or other pressure to be vaccinated if they do not wish to do so; ensure that no one is discriminated against for not having been vaccinated, due to possible health risks or not wanting to be vaccinated”.
Once introduced, when would the Covid Pass be withdrawn? The finish line has not been drawn. Are Covid Passes being introduced for large venues for a public health reason (if so, it has not been convincingly stated) or to open the door for more venues to follow? Italy has seen the use of vaccine passports drastically expanded while at the same time removing the inclusion of negative LFTs.
Could there be mission creep? When the Covid Pass was unveiled, functionality was revealed which is completely unrelated to vaccination status, such as: information relating to the family of the individual and the individual’s lifestyle and social circumstances; their ethnic origin; genetic and biometric details; criminal convictions or alleged criminal behaviour. What has any of that to do with entering a nightclub or stadium?
Covid Passes may actually be counter-productive and deter some people from being vaccinated as reported by the APPG on Vaccines for All as well as a recent study “Vaccine Passports” May Backfire: Findings from a Cross-Sectional Study in the UK and Israel on Willingness to Get Vaccinated against COVID-19. This might affect future public health initiatives beyond Covid.
Covid Passes will create an illiberal medical papers checkpoint society that is completely out of keeping with the British way of life.
The government has not been transparent in its intentions. At the time when MP Nadhim Zahawi made assurances that there were no plans to introduce Covid Passes, the government had issued 8 contracts to develop them.
There is no evidence that vaccine passports have worked in any country that has introduced them. Vaccine passports are all pain and no gain:
The important and inconvenient truth is that vaccine passports will not serve public health. They are an expensive and illiberal gateway to discrimination and segregation and they will create a hardened meaningful minority of conscientious objectors.