In one sense vaccines are the perfect example of the ‘greater good’. Every citizen bears a tiny risk to protect not just their own health but that of society as a whole. By contrast, I can think of few graver threats to that greater good than the introduction of vaccine passports.
Until recently the accepted view in Westminster seemed to have been that vaccine passports of any kind were discriminatory. Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, was told by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee last month that ‘Covid-status certification system would, by its very nature, be discriminatory.’
This all changed last week with the announcement that passports might, after all, be needed for nightclubs and large events. And then on Sunday evening, it was reported that the Prime Minister had suggested vaccine passports could be introduced as a condition to university life – meaning students would have to show a vaccine pass to attend lectures or live in their halls of residence. The children’s minister, Vicky Ford, did not rule the measures out on Monday – saying that ‘no decision had been taken yet’.
The government’s desire to increase vaccine uptake among the young is understandable. But using vaccine passports is needlessly heavy-handed. This is even more the case when you deny young people access to education unless they show their vaccine pass. Education is one of the fundamental building blocks of a good life – and it is hardwired into legislation as a basic human right. Until 24 hours ago the thought that we would turn that right into a privilege contingent upon a medical intervention would have been unthinkable. In fact as recently as last week Nadhim Zahawi apparently agreed, reassuring MPs in the House of Commons that they would not be introduced in educational settings.