Proposals to introduce vaccine passports and other restrictions on the movement of unvaccinated people in the UK should be treated with caution, scientists warned last week. Such plans would not lead to rapid reductions in Covid-19 case numbers and could trigger hostility to future vaccine campaigns, they said.
These warnings came after several European countries – including Belgium, Germany and Norway – revealed last week that they were preparing to step up measures to tackle low uptake of Covid-19 vaccines as the number of cases continues. to rise across the continent. On Friday, Austria announced that it would be the first country in Europe to make coronavirus jabs mandatory. All citizens must have one from February 1 next year.
Slovakia also bans unvaccinated people from all unnecessary shops and malls, while new restrictions in Greece will prevent visits to bars, restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms.
The intervention led to widespread protests throughout Europe. Tens of thousands of people – with signs saying “no to vaccination” – gathered at Vienna’s Heroes’ Square, and Dutch police shot and wounded at least two people after riots broke out in Rotterdam over new Covid-19 measures in the Netherlands.
Opinion polls also suggest that vaccine passports enjoy significant support in most countries. “They are a way to encourage people to have jabs and to slow down Covid-19 transmission rates,” said Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University.
“But it takes time to vaccinate millions of people, and another two weeks before a person is fully protected. So if the priority is to get the transmission speeds down as fast as possible, I would not reach until after vaccine passes. I would only reach for things like negative test passes. “
This point was supported by Raghib Ali from Cambridge University. “I do not think mandatory vaccines are a good idea,” he said Observer. “The most important thing about vaccination is to maintain the trust of people. If you remove the consent of people to take a medicine or a vaccine, it would be lost.”
A crucial factor is that Britain is not in danger of following Europe, he added. “Europe is following us in terms of case numbers because of the later arrival of the Delta wave on the continent, and because their immunity is declining later than here because of their vaccine programs starting later.”
Simon Williams of Swansea University pointed to Scotland’s certification scheme, which required people attending nightclubs and major sporting events to reveal their vaccination status: “The evidence is, at best, that the scheme produced only a small increase in vaccination rates.”
Williams added that if vaccine passes were introduced, they would probably not cause a setback among those who were just hesitant to get a jab. “But for those who are highly resistant to the vaccine, there is a real risk of a countermeasure that could have unwelcome consequences when it comes to introducing new vaccine programs against Covid, influenza or other diseases.”
This point was backed by British vaccine expert Peter English. “The problem with compulsory vaccination is that it does not necessarily solve the issue of vaccination, especially when it is already quite high. It is difficult to enforce. How do you vaccinate someone who refuses consent? It actually increases the proportion of the population who take the vaccine? Does it increase the mistrust of vaccination, does it increase disagreement and protests, and thus actually reduces the vaccination measure? ”
Professor David Matthews from Bristol University said it was crucial to keep talking to adults who had decided not to get the vaccine here in the UK. “We need to engage with them and hopefully they will rethink their reasons for not being vaccinated in light of the information we have from around the world that vaccines are safe and they work. Vaccination is easy the most effective way out of the pandemic and the best way to avoid more lockdowns. “
Professor Lawrence Young of Warwick University, however, stressed that vaccine passports should be considered an important weapon in the fight against Covid-19.
“If the current level of infections and hospitalizations in the UK continues or rises even more, we have no choice but to limit virus transmission by introducing some form of vaccine passport, alongside reintroducing mandatory face masks in overcrowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces. These are minor inconveniences that could really help us through the winter months along with the continued rollout of booster vaccinations. “
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