Vaccine passports: Do I need one for going out, work and travel?

The growing number of people vaccinated may be able to gain more freedoms in the future. …

By Eleanor Lawrie
BBC News

Woman puts a reopening sign up in a barimage copyrightGetty Images

Vaccine passports could soon be needed to go on holiday, visit a pub or get a job, some businesses and politicians have suggested.

But critics say demanding proof of a Covid vaccination could discriminate against some people.

Can my boss force me to get vaccinated?

The government wants as many people as possible to be vaccinated, but it is not compulsory. The millions who have chosen to do so receive a record card and the immunisation goes on their medical record.

Plumbing firm Pimlico Plumbers is among those to say it will require employees to be vaccinated, and may not keep on those who don’t comply. Care home operator Barchester Healthcare has also said all new hires must get the jab.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said making new staff get inoculated could, in theory, be possible if it was written into their contracts.

But he said it was unlikely bosses could make existing workers have vaccines under their current contracts.

A nurse helping an older womanimage copyrightGetty Images
image captionFrontline healthcare staff have one of the few roles where vaccine passports may be justified

Demanding staff are vaccinated would be unlawful in the “majority of circumstances”, said Ella Bond, an employment lawyer at Harper James solicitors.

She said it could lead to unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. Exceptions could be if it was “job critical” for people to be vaccinated – for example care home workers, or roles requiring overseas travel.

Businesses are not allowed to discriminate against people for reasons including disability, pregnancy and religious belief.

Pregnant women are not generally recommended to have the jab unless they are at particular risk from coronavirus. And the vaccine isn’t suitable for people with health conditions including certain allergies and immune system problems.

People may decide not to take the vaccine for such reasons, says Sarah Gilzean, a discrimination lawyer in the employment team at Morton Fraser. That would make it difficult for employers to justify vaccine passports.

“In settings where there are alternatives like mass testing that are less intrusive, it’s going to be difficult for employers to justify that requirement,” she says.

In her view, the only “good argument” for vaccinations to be required is for health and social care workers.

Discrimination laws also apply to providing services. Venues like pubs and restaurants could struggle to demonstrate it was proportionate to require customers have a vaccine passport, if there are alternative ways of managing transmission risk, she adds.

What about going to a pub or the theatre?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested the UK will not have vaccine passports for going “to the pub, or something like that”.

But Mr Buckland suggested individual premises would be allowed to make their own decisions about the sort system they want to bring in.

“It’s very much a question of judgement based upon perhaps local prevalence or an issue relating to safety in the local area,” he said.

Venues would also have to consider that some people won’t be able to have the vaccine for medical reasons, Mr Buckland said.

Will the UK create vaccine passports for travellers?

It seems so, yes.

Health Secretary Hancock has said that in future, some countries will require proof of vaccination to allow entry and the government “obviously want to make sure that Brits can fulfil that”.

Man going down an escalatorimage copyrightGetty Images

What have other countries done?

  • In Greece, the prime minister has urged the European Commission to introduce a coronavirus vaccination certificate which would allow “the freedom of movement of persons who have been vaccinated”
  • Estonia and the UN’s health agency is creating e-vaccination certificates known as a “smart yellow card”
  • Denmark is developing a digital vaccine passport so citizens can prove they have had the jab
  • Spain is compiling a database of vaccine refusers, which it will share with the European Union. This will ensure no-one has been accidentally missed off the vaccination list, the health minister said

What does the tourism industry say?

Saga, which specialises in holidays for the over-50s, says passengers on its 2021 holidays or cruises must be fully vaccinated.

Australian airline Qantas says travellers will eventually need to prove coronavirus vaccination to board its flights.

However, the World Travel & Tourism Council has said that a strategy for re-starting international travel should be based on testing rather than a vaccine-centred scheme.

Example of a vaccination certificate on a smartphoneimage copyrightGetty Images

If I can show proof of vaccination, do I have to follow lockdown restrictions?

Yes, anyone with the vaccine must continue to follow all social distancing rules.

A study by the University of Oxford suggests the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine may have a “substantial” effect on transmission of the virus.

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