On 15th March 2021, in a win for People Power, the UK Parliament were forced to carry out a parliamentary review on the subject of introducing a covid-status certification system - a vaccine passport by any other name.

The petition driving this review is entitled, “Do not rollout Covid-19 vaccine passports” and signatures had hit 250,000 by the time its day in Parliament came around. Numbers are still increasing daily and at the time of writing, there are now 316,121 signatures in support of this position. On the flip side, there are only 5,910 signatures on the petition to “Introduce a ‘Vaccination Passport’ for international travel”. Yet, despite the clear weight of public opinion, the wheels of the totalitarian machine appear to keep turning. If you were of a mind to believe what you read in the media, you’d think vaccine passports were a done deal. But we don’t think that hundreds of thousands of Brits and countless others around the world are going to take this lying down.

Standing up for our rights

The petition, and the recent parliamentary review, have spawned two public consultations because, make no mistake, the Government is in no doubt as to how many are feeling about this further transgression of fundamental rights and freedoms. Whilst you may feel personally that it’s pointless and a waste of time responding, or that it might get your name onto a blacklist, in the kind of game we’re in, numbers do matter. These consultations are no doubt a box-checking exercise to maintain a semblance of democracy, fine veneer that it is, to keep those who have not yet awakened from doing just that. So it makes it all the more important for those of us who have a clear vision of a free and equitable future to stand together and let the sheer weight of our numbers get around the media silencing and censorship.  

The first consultation, which closed at 11:45 pm on 29th March 2021, related to a Cabinet Office enquiry into whether covid-status certification could play a role in reopening the economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety. However, there is a second consultation pertaining to a new UK Government enquiry to consider the ethical, legal and operational issues, as well as the efficacy and appropriateness of a certificate system (vaccine passport), which is still open until 23:59 on Monday 3rd May 2021.

Below we share elements of Rob Verkerk’s and Meleni Aldridge’s individual responses to the first consultation in the hopes that it makes it clearer and easier for you to complete the consultation which is currently open until 3rd May. Let us stand together and make sure our combined voice is heard.

Clinical / medical considerations

The medical requirement for covid-status certification should not be assumed. It should be justified clearly, with evidence. Such a justification should be considered alongside the risk of other diseases. Assuming the threat posed by covid-19 continues to be viewed as seriously in relation to other diseases as the Government continues to uphold, the only tenable purpose of covid-status certification is to determine whether an individual is capable or not of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

The science is simply too young and lacking in independence to know with any degree of certainty how much protection is conferred, for how long and to whom, the picture being complicated greatly by many factors, many which are known unknowns. These include differences between commercial vaccines, the incompleteness of Phase 3 trials (some of which  even for the frontrunner vaccines are ongoing into 2023), the fact that endpoints for the Phase 3 trials did not include transmissibility, the duration between first and second shots, the immune status, age and health of the individual concerned, the specific variant of the virus in question (e.g. resistant mutants), the existence of any previous cross-immunity, and other factors.

A second potential method for evaluating covid-status would be serological immunoassays testing for antibodies. The duration over which antibodies are raised is unknown, although they are likely to be elevated for considerably longer following naturally-acquired infection than following vaccination. 

A third potential indicator of infection risk is likely to be PCR or lateral flow testing – although such molecular diagnostic methods are prone to deliver false negatives or positives. 

Accordingly, all three methods have huge medical and clinical problems. Using any of them to imply immunity or lack of transmission potential would be a scientific fallacy in view of the lack of certainty in the science. It would also be  discriminatory against any person who ‘failed’ any one of these tests. 

Therefore, if the Government were to proceed with covid-status certification in any form, it would lack a robust scientific or medical basis, while also being biased and discriminatory (including to those to whom vaccination is contraindicated for health reasons) and it would imply a patent disregard for the right of citizen choice in healthcare matters.   

Legal considerations

Creating ‘immune privilege’ while discriminating against those without proven immunity to a single infectious disease would breach the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, which protects an individual’s bodily autonomy, the right to informed consent and the right to refuse medical interventions without penalty or restriction.

Any legislation that mandated covid-status certification could be viewed as disproportionate given the many other infectious diseases for which such certification does not exist. They would also have no legal basis if it can be shown that a vaccinated individual may infect others. This would be particularly problematic if vaccinated individuals are exposed to infections to which their vaccine confers no or little protection, given the emergence of vaccine-resistant mutant strains.

Covid-status certification would also divide society even further by creating second-class citizenry because the absence of certification would deny individuals from certain freedoms, rights and privileges.

The alternative to vaccination evidence, which is a recent test result, also carries legal as well as ethical problems. Firstly, under even the most extreme UK law, required medical testing is only possible if an individual is known to be potentially infectious (Coronavirus Act 2020). Further, pre-existing public health law only allows a medical examination to be ordered by a magistrate if a person is believed to be infected or contaminated (Health and Social Care Act 2008).

However, COVID-status certificates would effectively make medical testing mandatory for all, treating all citizens – and particularly those with protected characteristics who are unable to receive a vaccination – as potentially infectious. The onerous burden of healthy people having to undergo frequent medical testing in order to enjoy basic rights could also lead to a loss of earnings and, if/when tests are no longer free, could incur financial penalties. Deliberately creating such a situation in the UK by introducing covid-status certification is unthinkable.   

Ethical considerations

People should not be coerced into medical treatments or testing in order to qualify for basic human rights, particularly in groups at low risk of any ill effects of covid-19, but also as a general principle. Any form of coercion is against the principle of medically informed consent - a principle set out in law. 

The current covid vaccines are experimental and the clinical trials are not due to finish until January 2023 or thereabouts, so it will be sometime after before results are published. Even the WHO are not recommending the use of any vaccine requirements for international travel because there are just too many unknowns presently in terms of effects, adverse events and even benefits from covid vaccines. Also, the current covid vaccines have not yet been given emergency approval (and are not yet licensed) for use in young people under the age of 18. As such, what practical use would vaccine certification be for adults when children in those families are not vaccinated? We were told that the reason why schools had to remain closed was because the children weren’t vaccinated and could spread the virus. This is particularly relevant in light of the fact that there is currently no concrete evidence to show that the vaccine stops the transmission of the disease or is effective for new strains of the virus. Children especially should not be forced into tests or experimental medical interventions by an exercise that contravenes basic human rights. There are safety concerns about the testing of children and so such measures would be particularly heinous.

If the vaccine turns out to be truly as efficacious as we have been led to believe, having protected the vast majority of those vulnerable to serious ill effects of covid-19, why should anyone have their rights and freedoms restricted? A covid-status ‘vaccine passport’ serves no practical purpose if the vulnerable are protected, unless the public have received misinformation about the vaccine's effectiveness, and we won’t know that until after the trials are complete. However, if the vaccines do significantly reduce transmission, infection rates and thus deaths will reduce even faster, rendering onerous controls such as covid-status certificates even less necessary and even more disproportionate.

Equalities and discrimination considerations

The effect of covid-status certification would be to socially and economically exclude people without a covid vaccine or recent test result and deny them basic freedoms. In doing so, some of the most marginalised in society could suffer either direct or indirect discrimination. The discriminatory nature of the certification scheme would be discriminatory under the UK’s Equality Act 2010,  and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act 2010 protect individuals from unlawful discrimination. Under equality law, it is unlawful to discriminate against people with ‘protected characteristics’, many of which are engaged by covid-status certificate proposals, including age, disability, pregnancy and religion or belief.  

If the Government allows society to be segregated according to vaccination status, then:

Young people would currently be discriminated against, since there will be lower and slower vaccine uptake as young people are both generally at a low risk of serious illness from the virus and last in line to be offered a vaccination. Children are not eligible for vaccines as trials are ongoing. Further, if vaccines are required annually/periodically, young people could be discriminated against on a corresponding cycle as they will always be last in line to receive vaccines.

Disabled people could be discriminated against as some medical conditions prevent individuals from being able to receive a vaccination.

Pregnant women could be discriminated against, as covid vaccines have not been tested on pregnant women and were therefore not initially included in the call to vaccinate. Women who are cautious about vaccines whilst pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive should not be discriminated against - especially when the vaccines are still experimental.

Some people with religious or other beliefs may be discriminated against, if those beliefs deter them from receiving a vaccine. 

Discrimination, inequality and unfairness would be caused not only by medical eligibility for vaccination but by accessibility of vaccinations. Research indicates that people from ethnic minority groups, people with lower levels of education and lower incomes are the most ‘hesitant’ or unlikely to receive covid vaccines (Paul, Steptoe & Fancourt 2020). Further, many of the estimated 1 million undocumented migrants in the UK are fearful of accessing health services due to punitive data sharing as part of hostile environment policies and may be more apprehensive still if covid-status certificates become an everyday requirement. We cannot simply erase histories and experiences of discrimination and hostility that have created distrust. In fact, vaccine segregation would only deepen discrimination and alienate people even more. This would be disastrous for trust in public health authorities when trust has never been needed more.

Finally, there are billions of citizens of the world who simply will not have access to covid vaccines for several years to come. As we emerge from the pandemic, disproportionate vaccine requirements should not unfairly impede the rights and freedom of movement of individuals from lower-income countries. 

Privacy considerations

Citizen’s highly confidential medical records should not be required to be shared in any form in order to access basic human rights. As well as being against all the privacy laws recently enacted, this is also a matter of basic ethical, and legal principal.

The Government would have us believe that it is acting in good faith for the good of citizens, yet through the continued use of lockdown policies, fear messaging and coercion into medical interventions, it looks suspiciously like the authoritarian states it is so quick to criticise as a danger to world stability and human rights globally.  

Whether or not covid-status certification serves any practical purpose is largely irrelevant as this would be vastly outweighed by the negative medical, legal, ethical, privacy and discrimination ramifications of such a policy, not to mention a plethora of legal issues arising from such a measure. It is vital for this Government to uphold its duty to protect the human rights of its citizens and prevent such discrimination.

Cost considerations

The cost to the public purse of mass testing and the development of a mass covid-status certification infrastructure is likely to be astronomical on top of the cost of the pandemic thus far, despite a raft of severe risks and a demonstrable lack of benefits. As a UK taxpayer, I am wholly against this use of public funds. 

Upcoming open consultation:

Call for evidence from the UK Government - Covid-19 Vaccine Certification. Closes: 23:59 3rd May 2021.

Associated reading: 

 

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