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Why Covid vaccine passports might backfire for Downing Street

New research suggests coronavirus certification could be ‘counterproductive among the most hard-to-reach groups’

The introduction of vaccine passports is likely to make those who are hesitant about having the Covid-19 jab even more reluctant, rather than encouraging them, according to a survey of more than 16,000 people. 

The research, carried out in April and published in the Lancet journal EClinicalMedicine this month, found that “the groups that are less likely to get vaccinated”, including young people, non-white ethnicities and non-English speakers, also “view vaccine passports less positively”, The Guardian reported. 

These findings suggest that vaccine passports could be “counterproductive among the most hard-to-reach groups” and pose “a risk of creating a divided society”, said the paper. 

Analysis of 16,527 people, 14,543 of whom had not yet had both vaccine doses, found that the vast majority (87.8%) said their decision on whether or not to have the vaccine “would not be affected by the introduction of passports”, added The Guardian.

Of the remaining 12.2%, about two-thirds suggested they would be less likely to get vaccinated if Covid passports were introduced, while the rest said they would be more inclined. 

The news came as Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson confirmed that plans to introduce vaccine passports for large, crowded venues including nightclubs from the end of September would remain in place. The policy, which will affect only venues in England, will require visitors to be fully vaccinated to gain entry. 

“We set out broadly our intention to require our vaccination for nightclubs and some other settings and we'll be coming forward in the coming weeks with details for that,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The announcement followed speculation that the plans might have been dropped “after a backlash from Conservative backbench MPs and industry leaders” who “warned that such rules could see venues lose money”, The Independent reported. 

Westminster isn’t planning on introducing the passports until the end of September, to enable the vaccination programme to reach the entire adult population first. “That is sensible”, in order to avoid disadvantaging any young people, said The Times in July. But, the paper argued, the policy “ought to be extended to sports and other mass entertainment venues, whether in or out of doors”.

The EClinicalMedicine research, which suggests that the introduction of vaccine passports “could have the reverse behavioural effect from that intended by ministers”, could put an end to Johnson’s plans “if it comes to a vote in the House of Commons”, said The Guardian.

Increasing numbers of countries are considering introducing vaccine passports as the world enters a new stage of the pandemic. An EU vaccine “passport” is being rolled out across all 27 member nations, as well as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, the BBC reported.

Digital health certificates such as vaccine passports can “provide strong incentives to the rendering of vaccination proof, especially for people who are initially sceptical of the vaccine”, said the Brookings Institute think tank. 

However, despite their “wide-ranging economic and public health benefits”, vaccine passports “raise a plethora of ethical concerns regarding their ability to safeguard user data and contribute to an equitable pandemic response”. 

Despite the new EClinicalMedicine research, there is evidence to suggest that introducing a vaccine passport or similar digital certificate can lead to an uptake in people getting vaccinated. When French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to require “health passes” in indoor spaces like cafes, restaurants, cinemas and trains, “four million people got their first shot and nearly six million made an appointment to get one”, reported Forbes

And, when Italy announced the introduction of a similar “green pass”, it spurred a similar wave of bookings – up between 15% and 200%, depending on the region. According to Forbes, the Italian media dubbed this uptake the “‘Draghi Effect’ after Mario Draghi, the nation’s prime minister”.

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