Covid vaccine passports need to be considered, top Scottish advisor says

A top Scottish medical advisor has warned vaccine passports need to be considered.

Cases of the new variant are not falling significantly, Prof Woolhouse warned.
Cases of the new variant are not falling significantly, Prof Woolhouse warned.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said vaccine passports were something that needed to be considered as part of a wider package of protective measures.

When asked on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday if vaccine passports were inevitable, he said: “It’s certainly something we have to consider seriously as part of a wider package of measures that are designed to make our activities safe.”

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Prof Woolhouse said that while a lot of workplaces, retail and hospitality can be made safer with measures such as social distancing and screens, passports could be used for nightclubs and mass gatherings.

He added: “Part of the whole point of living with this this virus is we have to switch emphasis, we have to now start thinking about how do we make those activities safe.

“We have already made them a lot safer for a lot of people by the rollout of the vaccine but we may also need to have additional measures in place, as I said, social distancing, the screens and so on, for those activities that can be made safer, a lot of workplaces, a lot of retail, a lot of hospitality can be made safer.

“For those activities that it is difficult to make completely safe – I am thinking things like nightclubs, large concerts, mass gatherings – that’s where passports come in. Whether it is vaccine passports, test negative passports or even immunity passports.”

The idea of vaccine passports has not been universally welcomed.

Speaking on the Sunday Show, Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "If only half the population has been vaccinated, to bring in a vaccine passport that excludes millions of people from accessing services, I don't think that's particularly fair or liberal so I'm very sceptical.

"Of course, you have yellow fever passports for certain international travel. So of course in minimal cases, in extreme cases, you could have vaccine passport for those. But minimal, not for widespread public services, or access to services,

"So I think I'm sceptical of a vaccine passport."

Prof Woolhouse said delays in the vaccination programme will slow down how quickly lockdown can be eased.

He said: “It’s not just the actual number of vaccines given out but the coverage, particularly of the most vulnerable groups.

“So far we have got through a lot of those vulnerable groups, at least with the first dose, and the coverage has been excellent – in the high 90 per cents [sic].

“But, yes, if we do have delays in getting people vaccinated the second time around, that’s going to slow things down.

“Although the second dose is a booster, a lot of the protection afforded by the vaccine – 80% or 90% of it – is given by the first dose, so we will be a long way there.”

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He said he was nervous about a full relaxation of restrictions in June.

He said: “I have to say I am a little bit nervous about a full relaxation in June.

“Obviously we all want to relax as far as it is safe to do so and it will be important that the Government continues to be guided by the data in that respect.

“This is the particularly important thing, exactly how well are the vaccines performing? If they are going at this rate, I think we can get quite close to a full release.

“The idea that we can suddenly emerge from this in one great bound, I think, is a little over-optimistic.”

But he said any third lockdown would be ‘a failure of public health policy’.

When asked if there was the risk of another lockdown, he said: “I think that’s one of the things we really want to avoid and we absolutely have the tools in place and the knowledge in place to avoid that.

“Another lockdown next winter for any reason, whether it’s an upsurge of the local variants that we have here or the importation of a new variant, I have to say I think we should regard that as a failure of public health policy if we have to go that route again.”

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