Covid Scotland: Vaccine passports 'could increase hesitancy', says Anas Sarwar

Vaccine passports could increase vaccine hesitancy, Anas Sarwar has claimed.

The Scottish Labour leader said in a TV interview that he believed testing ahead of large events would be more successful than the Scottish Government’s vaccine passport plan, saying that “professors” had written papers saying so.

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday show, health secretary Humza Yousaf said Scotland’s chief medical officer (CMO) would next week make a decision on whether teenagers should be vaccinated.

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It comes as 6,368 new positive Covid were reported in the 24 hours to Sunday in Scotland, with no new deaths. A total of 719 people were in hospital with the virus and 61 people were in intensive care.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said vaccine passports could do more harm than good.

Last week, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that while there was a marginal benefit in vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, it would not come out in favour of doing so at present – but urged CMOs to make their own decisions.

Mr Sarwar said: “This is about what works and what's going to make a meaningful difference.

"We all agree the vaccine is working and helping to reduce hospitalisations, and reduce deaths, but actually there's a fear that the use of vaccine passports may actually entrench vaccine hesitancy rather than encourage uptake.

"There are professors who have written these pieces and public health experts who have said this, that it may increase vaccine hesitancy.

"The other part is, it's important to recognise that even if you've had the vaccine, yes, it reduces hospitalisations, yes, it reduces death, but you can still get the virus and you can still spread the virus.

"The more important test should be whether someone's negative, going into a large-scale event, rather than if they have had a vaccine.”

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MSPs are set to vote on Thursday on whether vaccine passport plans will go ahead. The Scottish Greens initially indicated they were dubious about the plan, but are likely to support the measure, while campaigners have claimed the passports would be part of a ‘coercive’ and ‘divisive’ assault on civil liberties.

Gillian Mackay, Scottish Green MSP, said: “It’s essential the government acts to address the surge in cases, but it must ensure that there are no negative unintended consequences from the measures it introduces."

Under the existing proposal, nightclubs, adult entertainment venues, and unseated indoor live events of more than 500 people would only be able to allow entry to people who can show they have had two Covid vaccines.

The restriction would also apply to unseated outdoor live events with more than 4,000 people, and any event, of any nature, which has more than 10,000 people in attendance, including football matches.

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “Liberty has always supported reasonable and proportionate measures to combat Covid. However, we have also been wary of any attempt to make these limits to our freedoms permanent. Emergency legislation should remain just that."

Dr Stuart Waiton, a sociologist at Abertay University, said: “What we are seeing with Scotland is, because it is a new state with new institutions, there’s very little tradition from the past to keep things balanced.

"We have a new safety-obsessed, politically correct-obsessed coalition, and almost no opposition. I would not be surprised if we never get back to normal Scotland."

Mr Yousaf admitted the vaccine passport scheme was an incentivisation” for young people to take up the jag.

The health secretary said: "We know that the uptake is lower amongst younger age cohorts and therefore anything that helps to incentivise that, I think, is helpful.

"I'm not I'm not ashamed to say, to hopefully incentivise vaccination uptake, because you again, the pressures on the NHS are great and we know.

"And we know that the vaccine helps when it comes to the chances of you being severely ill, or hospitalised due to Covid. So as many people we can get vaccinated, the better.”

Mr Yousaf said the Covid certification scheme was for “very limited settings”, adding the government was trying to keep limitations to as small a section of hospitality as possible.

He added: “I would say remember the Covid certification scheme is limited to some very high risk settings and is not going to be there for public services, for the essential services: for going to the shops etc. So it is for in these very limited spaces that clinicians consider high risk.”

Mr Yousaf said that he had spoken to Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith “yesterday and the day before” about the JCVI’s decision on the vaccination of teenagers.

He said: “I want an independent clinical view to inform my decision and form the government's decision. And he was really hopeful, that they'd be able to do that at some point next week.”

UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has denied not listening to the experts as he insisted the UK Government was yet to decide whether to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds against Covid south of the border.

He said if the UK’s chief medical officers recommend vaccination then it “absolutely” was the right thing to do, but that he did not want to “pre-determine” that outcome.

Mr Zahawi said parents of healthy 12 to 15-year-olds would be asked for consent if coronavirus jabs are approved for their children. “I can give that assurance, absolutely,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Given the large rise in case numbers and in order to help protect public health, reduce the necessity for any further restrictions and boost vaccine take-up, if Parliament agrees, we feel now is the right time to introduce a robust, effective and proportionate Covid vaccine certification.

"The introduction of vaccine certificates, even in the limited circumstances we propose, is a significant move and not one we’d take lightly. Regulations will be kept under ongoing review.”

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