July 26, 2021
An education minister today refused to rule out vaccine passports for university students looking to return to in-person lectures and live in halls of residence.
Boris Johnson is said to be ‘raging’ about the relatively low uptake of Covid vaccines in young people and suggested the move to drive up the rates.
It would see students only allowed back on campus in September if they can prove they have been double-jabbed.
Vicky Ford, the minister for children and families, was repeatedly asked about the policy during a round of interviews this morning.
She told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: ‘So obviously, I can’t comment on things that haven’t been announced.
‘But one does need to look at every practicality to make sure that we can get students back safely and make sure that we can continue to prioritise education.’
Mr Johnson’s officials spokesman also refused to rule out the radical policy.
He said: ‘You have heard what the PM has said before, specifically that the pandemic is not over and as he said last week we are still looking at the scope for vaccination certification and as we said last week I am not going to go into individual sectors or settings.
‘We obviously reserve the right to protect the public and reduce transmission which is why as I say we are still looking at the scope of the vaccine certification.’
If given the go-ahead, the policy would mark another chaotic U-turn from Mr Johnson, who previously promised vaccine passports would only be enforced for foreign travel.
The PM sparked fury last week when he announced the documents will be a legal condition of entry for nightclubs.
Furious Tory MPs branded the push for vaccine passports on universities ‘wrongheaded’ and warned it could create a ‘social hierarchy’.
Labour also attacked the plans today, with leader Sir Keir Starmer warning: ‘I just to be very clear about this, I don’t want to see vaccine passports used on an everyday basis.’ Deputy leader Angela Rayner described the plans as ‘unworkable’.
The Prime Minister is said to be ‘raging’ about the low numbers of young people coming forward to get the jab and hopes the move pressures them to come forward, according to The Times.
The latest NHS England figures show just 58.6 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds have had one Covid injection, compared to rates of above 90 per cent in most older age groups.
At the same time, the virus is sweeping through younger age groups, with case rates among those in their 20s higher than any age group since the pandemic began.
But Mr Johnson is likely to be challenged by those within his own party who are against vaccine passports and compare the proposals to a dystopia.
Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, told the newspaper: ‘This is wrongheaded.
‘It’s like something out of Huxley’s Brave New World where people with vaccine passports will be engineered into social hierarchies – those who will be given higher education or those who do not.’
Mr Johnson suggested all students — apart from those with medical conditions that stop them getting jabbed — should be forced to get vaccinated.
He made the comments last week in virtual meetings with colleagues, while he was self-isolating in Chequers after coming into close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid who tested positive for the virus, according to The Times.
Ms Ford did not deny that the plans could go ahead.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, she said: ‘What we’ve always done throughout this pandemic is prioritised access to university.
‘And one of the things that we really want to do is encourage young people to get that double vaccination is the way that you’ll minimise disruption to your own university career.
‘And I will certainly be encouraging both of my student sons to have their second vaccination before they go back to university to become a requirement.
‘We must make sure that we continue to prioritise education and if they want to be able to avoid the self-isolation such as we have said for other adults, the double-vaccinated adults by August the 16th if you have not got a positive test, if you don’t have symptoms, you won’t need to self-isolate.
‘So, for students who are returning to university that’s really important.’
The PM announced last week that night clubs will bar people from their venues from September if they have not been double jabbed, as well as from ‘other venues where large crowds gather’.
Compulsory vaccinations will come into force later in the year for people who work in care homes.
The Government is also in talks with the Premier League about only letting double-jabbed fans into stadiums.
Speaking on a visit to co-working space Impact Hub, in central London, Labour’s deputy leader Ms Rayner said: ‘We think it is unworkable actually and we should be encouraging people to get the vaccine as soon as they possibly can, and also encouraging people to take regular tests as well. Because that is how we keep control of the virus.
‘Of course, even with the two vaccines you can still get Covid, so therefore testing has got to be an important part of that scheme.’
She had earlier said of vaccine passports: ‘The bureaucracy shouldn’t fall on businesses. Many businesses, the practicalities, whether it is in hospitality or in other organisations, they have absolutely struggled during this pandemic and there is absolutely no way that these businesses can go around vetting and checking these vaccine passports are legit.’
Sir Keir said he wants to be ‘pragmatic’ over proposals on the use of Covid passports.
The Labour leader was asked on LBC about the use of certification at mass events such as the Euros final at Wembley.
He said: ‘I think tests are actually more useful than double vaccinations, as the Health Secretary has shown. He, of course, got Covid just about 10 days ago now, I know he’s through it now, but he had been double vaccinated. So, I actually think tests are much more useful.
‘I think that the idea that we can go back to mass sporting events or other events without any checks is not one I would subscribe to.’
Asked whether he would support the Government in a vote, he said Labour would ‘look carefully’ at proposals and added: ‘What I don’t want to see, just to be very clear about this, is I don’t want to see vaccine passports used on an everyday basis for access to critical things like health, dentistry, food, etc.
‘So, for sporting events, I’ll look at what the Government puts on the table. I want to be pragmatic because we all want all business sectors and sporting sectors to return as quickly as possible. But not for everyday use.’
Professor Adam Finn, deputy head of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told LBC on Sunday that ministers needed to be careful about how they promoted the Covid vaccines.
He said: ‘Nudging can be done but it has to be done in a way that people don’t feel that people are being pushed into something they don’t want to do
‘We have had people under 30 on our intensive care unit and also requiring high-level oxygen therapy. This is not always trivial in young adults.
‘There are younger people really getting seriously ill, so that’s one good reason to think about having the vaccine. But these vaccines, it’s clear, do reduce the risk of not only getting the infection but passing it on to other people.
‘Getting immunised is going to reduce the risk of spreading this infection among young people and enable them to get back to normal.’