The ethical case against domestic use of ‘vaccine passports’ was made with some passion in Britain before Boris Johnson’s change of heart. Matt Hancock repeatedly assured people that Britain is 'not a papers-carrying country'. Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said vaccine passports would be 'discriminatory'. Michael Gove promised that there were 'no plans' to introduce them. In a Westminster Hall debate, MPs from all parties lined up to say that out of principle, the minority who chose not to take the vaccine should suffer no penalty.
We have not been told the reason for the u-turn. In theory, the government is taking soundings. In practise, those involved in Michael Gove’s review have been told that the decision has already been made by the PM: so they’re happening. (Technology makes it quite doable, with face-scanning the latest option.) But internationally, the ethical case against them continues. No one disputes that they would be discriminatory. The question is whether discrimination based on health status is now acceptable.
The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, thinks not and has just banned them completely.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 2, 2021
Today I issued an executive order prohibiting the use of so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports. The Legislature is working on making permanent these protections for Floridians and I look forward to signing them into law soon. Read my EO here – https://t.co/6QwLsLWEWm
His rationale, explained in an Executive Order, is interesting. 'Individual vaccination records are private health information which should not be shared by mandate,' it says.
'So-called Covid-19 vaccine passports restrict individual freedom and will harm privacy. Requiring so-called Covid-19 vaccine passports for taking part in everyday life – such as attending a sporting event, patronising a restaurant or going to a movie theatre - would create two classes of citizen based on vaccination. It is necessary to protect the fundamental rights and privacies of Floridians and the free flow of commerce within the state.'
So all businesses in Florida have been banned from accepting or issuing vaccine passports. It will be interesting to see how many states follow – given that the Biden administration is, like the Tories, working with private companies to create vaccine identity cards.
In the UK vaccines do seem to be working. Covid levels have been forced 96 per cent off their peak - so backbenchers are asking why vaccine passports are be needed. They also question the government’s attempt to link the reopening of society to the use of ID cards. Their purpose is to exclude: but what sort of people would they exclude? The latest vaccine data shows a pretty large racial dimension (evident in America too). One of the concerns in parliament is that, given huge racial disparity in uptake, vaccine passports would 'whiten up' any pub, restaurants or shopping centre that demands them. In 2021, that's a hard sell.