UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi rules out 'discriminatory' passports

Confidence grows that everyone over 50 will be vaccinated by May

A man receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a community vaccination centre at Hartlepool Town Hall, amid the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hartlepool, Britain, January 31, 2021. REUTERS/Lee Smith

People who have received a Covid-19 shot in Britain will not be given vaccine passports, but there is growing confidence that everyone over 50 will be offered a shot by May, UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday.

Supply remains the limiting factor but between 11am and 12pm on Saturday, there were almost 1,000 shots a minute in the UK, Mr Zahawi told Sky News.

The growing number of vaccinated people in Britain has led to calls for some form of vaccine passport.

Former prime minister Tony Blair said the government should be in the international lead of their implementation.

The government is impervious to to the clamour, however.

"One, we don't know the impact of the vaccines on transmission; two, it would be discriminatory," Mr Zahawi said.

"I think the right thing to do is make sure people come forward and be vaccinated because they want to, rather than it being made in some way mandatory through a passport."

Doctors can instead supply proof of vaccination, he said.

On Sunday the UK reported 15,845 new Covid-19 cases and 373 deaths.

 

The rejection of the scheme will be welcomed by some in the travel industry who feared that vaccine passports would have deterred potential holidaymakers.

"A formal vaccine passport is adding a barrier to travel," Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told The National on Friday.

"There will be people who want to travel and who haven’t been able to take the vaccine, maybe for a medical reason.

“The whole point of travel is that it should be seamless and easy to do.

"Vaccine passports aren’t the way forward. It would be much better to simply show a certificate proving that you’ve had a vaccine in order to gain entry to a country that needed it.”

The government's decision was questioned by the UK's shadow business minister Ed Miliband.

Despite being "five or six weeks on from the South African variant being discovered" – which scientists fear poses a reinfection risk – the government still doesn't "have a plan for a comprehensive quarantine system", Mr Miliband told the BBC.

He said this should be the priority before vaccine passports were considered.

The issue of a lack of border security has dogged the government throughout the pandemic; other countries with far lower death rates opted for much tighter controls.

In March 2020, as the first coronavirus wave loomed, the government abandoned a policy of asking arrivals to enter quarantine.

It then waited until June before imposing any other measures, in an approach that was regarded as "highly unusual" in a report by UK parliamentarians.

Vaccine programme continues apace

The UK government is on much safer ground with its approach to the vaccine distribution, which has seen it set a searing global pace that caused unrest across EU member states over the slowness of the bloc's own programme.

On Sunday, Mr Zahawi said the UK was on track to meet its target of vaccinating all over-50s and all clinically vulnerable aged between 16 and 65 by May.

"I'm confident we'll meet our mid-February target of the top four cohorts," he told Sky News.

"I'm also confident because I have enough line of sight of deliveries that are coming through, that we will also meet the one to nine cohorts by May."

Britain's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, Nadhim Zahawi, who has responsibility for the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, reacts as he waks along a street in Westminster in London  on December 2, 2020 as England emerges from a month-long lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19. - Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, announcing a rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech's jab from next week in a major advance for humanity's fightback against the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

He said the targets were "tough" given the logistical difficulties posed by those with health conditions and those unable to travel.

But with the latest figures showing 11.54 million people in Britain have been vaccinated, Mr Zahawi's optimism appears to be well founded.

There would almost certainly be an autumn booster shot and an annual vaccination programme could be required in the future, he told the BBC.

"We see very much probably an annual or a booster in the autumn and then an annual [vaccination], in the way we do with flu vaccinations where you look at what variant of virus is spreading around the world," Mr Zahawi said.

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