USING the NHS app on a mobile phone to show a person’s vaccination status or latest Covid test result is to be at the centre of a UK Government review considering the ethical issues in introducing “vaccine passports”.
Boris Johnson has tasked his Cabinet colleague Michael Gove to lead the review into the “deep and complex issues” surrounding so-called “Covid status certificates”.
However, it is also understood that it will also investigate whether businesses such as pubs and theatres could be banned from making access conditional on vaccination alone.
Current thinking is that customers required to prove they are Covid-free by venue owners may be able to use the NHS app to prove that they have either received a jab or a recent negative test and so be granted entry.
Showing proof of either a jab or a negative test is believed to be one option being considered by UK ministers to avoid discriminating against those who have declined getting inoculated for health or other reasons.
However, the issue of vaccine passports opens up wider questions as to whether or not people could be denied jobs or access to their workplaces if they could not prove they were Covid-free.
Senior Whitehall officials as well as Nadhim Zahawi, the Government’s Vaccines Minister, have frequently appeared to dismiss the idea of introducing vaccine passports in the UK. There is, however, a growing acceptance that they will be needed when international travel resumes as some countries are already indicating such Covid status certificates will be needed to cross their borders.
During a visit to a school in east London yesterday, Mr Johnson acknowledged that “fervent libertarians” would reject the idea of the need to show a vaccine passport but noted how others would “think there’s a case for it”.
The PM said there could be medical reasons why people were not able to be vaccinated or might be “mistaken” for others who refused to receive a jab.
“We can’t be discriminatory against people who for whatever reason can’t have the vaccine,” declared Mr Johnson.
He added Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, would lead a review “getting the best scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical viewpoints on it and will work out a way forward”.
At Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon said people needed to keep an open mind to the possibility of vaccine passports as she set out her plans for easing Scotland’s lockdown.
The First Minister told the Scottish Parliament that she would “never support something that deepens social inequalities” or “took away people’s civil liberties” based on their medical history.
But she added: “We should think properly, without closing our minds at this stage, to what a vaccine passport or certificate might offer us.”
Willie Rennie for the Scottish Liberal Democrats expressed some concern about vaccine passports “slowly gaining traction” and insisted they must not be used to access public services.
Mr Gove’s review will report to the PM before the June 21 date pencilled in for a full reopening of the economy in England.