With the UK’s third lockdown potentially in place until Easter, many are wistfully thinking of when they’ll be allowed out again – and when a holiday abroad could be on the cards. The concept of vaccine passports has become the apex of questions about international travel.
For those who are not a fan of the idea, the outlook doesn’t look good – a growing roster of countries are making proof of Covid immunity a condition of entry, including Israel and the Seychelles. Others such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are lobbying for them. The EU will debate vaccine certificates for travel within the bloc today, and holiday firm Saga has confirmed that customers will need to prove they have been inoculated.
Most noteworthy is that airlines are also considering making proof of vaccination a condition of being able to fly – similar to passengers being barred from boarding unless they can show a negative test.
Some have welcomed this news, hoping it will help kickstart travel. Others are more concerned, with one expert, Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, recently warning it would create a "vaccine apartheid".
“From an ethical point of view vaccine passports are completely unacceptable,” she said. “You’re going to create a two-tier system and history shows that when you create division within society it leads to civil unrest.” This is certainly a concern, given the older generation (rightly) have priority when it comes to vaccination, potentially leading to a scenario where the over-50 demographic is able to jet off, while the younger generation is still unable to leave the country.
But what do the public think? The Telegraph asked for opinions on the matter – and responses were as diverse as they were plentiful.
The 'deserving old'
Many didn’t care about the idea of international holidays being off the table for a while longer – or the older generation gaining the privilege sooner than them. “I don't see it as a massive issue as everyone will be vaccinated eventually,” said one respondee. “But I think that it's good that older people can: old people and those clinically vulnerable (which I fall into) have been trapped in our local area since March 2020.”
The argument that those who are older have been more constricted for the past year and ergo are more deserving of a break was a common thread. “We took a leap of faith and visited our friends in Greece back in September,” said Lou Varley, “but the most vulnerable have been stuck at home for almost a year.” Or, put another way by Adam G. Manning: “They’re going to die sooner than me, so I’m not fussed.”
Others pointed out that it won’t just be older age groups able to take advantage of their newly vaccinated status, but NHS staff, who have undoubtedly had the toughest year out of all of us. “I’d be incredibly jealous if my parents were able to travel a few months before me but mum’s a nurse and my dad’s been shielding so they probably deserve a break,” said Katie Brooks.
Getting travel back up and running again was another point in vaccine passports’ favour. “Having seen the huge strain a lack of tourism is putting on conservation and community projects in Africa, anything that gets tourism moving to some extent should be a good idea” said Alexandra Matts, director Extraordinary Africa. She highlighted – along with many others – that vaccinations (usually for yellow fever) being an entry requirement are already “common” in Africa.
“When I went to Uganda in 2019, having the yellow fever jab and showing proof of a vaccine was a requisite for getting a visa,” agreed travel writer Julia Hammond. “So I don’t understand how having to supply proof of a Covid jab to visit a country would be any different or any more discriminatory?”
“My knee jerk answer would be yes to anything that gets the travel industry moving again,” said Belfast-based Tony Pleavin, “and the fact is older folks have fewer years remaining in which to travel – but the vaccine passport does seem a little draconian. So I will sit on the fence and doubtless pick up some splinters.”
Others felt that there was little to be done if individual countries made the vaccine a barrier to entry: “I fully appreciate some countries saying they will only accept the vaccinated,” said Brighton-based Lisa Francesca Nand.
Only accepting vaccinated travellers is a tempting proposition for governments looking to keep Covid from their shores. “Vaccines, once the antibodies have taken effect, is going to be more reliable than a negative Covid test (even a negative PCR test may be out of date if someone happens to get infected just after they take the test but before they fly,” said writer Andy Hayler, who says he is “all for” the vaccine passport.
A two-tiered society
Another commenter offered a counter to this: “I don't care who goes on holiday but a vaccine passport is wrong ethically. I know you need certain jabs for certain countries but it is a select few (and science that's been around for aeons) – a vaccine passport would trap anyone who didn't want it on this island. I’m not talking about anti-vax nuts, but people with genuine concerns or anxieties.”
“It is incredibly unethical to impose restrictions on those who simply choose not to have a vaccine,” added Cornwall-based Victoria Bond. “I would be ‘punished’ for not wanting a medical procedure I don’t need – the vaccine *only* protects the individual who has it, so any coercion on the young is sinister.”
There are also concerns from a sizeable contingent that vaccine passports – and negative testing being taken off the table – would spark resentment between the old and the young. “The pandemic has disproportionately affected young people, with regards to education, careers, finances and opportunities,” said one commenter. “We have had to make sacrifices to protect the older population. It doesn’t seem fair for them to be the first to crack on.”
“I feel that the younger gen. have made a huge amount of sacrifice to protect the older generation,” agreed Chris Cox, an entertainer in London, “so it doesn’t sit right that they get to reap the rewards of that. I'm one of those excluded [from Government help] and it has affected me terribly. There's nothing I'd love more than to travel again, so it's a bit of a kick in the teeth if the older gen. are sunning themselves with a nice bottle of bubbles whilst we continue to pay the price.”
“I could imagine it feeling like a massive slap in the face for those who’ve made sacrifices – like students and recent graduates in casual work – to see boomers travelling the world again while they can’t,” said another. “I also think it creates a market for private vaccinations, which (if available) would create a class issue, with people being priced out of even the most basic of summer holidays.”
‘Boomers’ and ‘millennials’ came up frequently, highlighting the common trope of tensions existing between the two groups, but for some, the division could go beyond that. “It would create a two-tiered society, which is much more dangerous than millennials and gen. Z being upset they have to spend another summer at home,” said Slavina Velinova. “We are already polarised enough, we don't need another issue to divide people, especially if it is an official document that gives you more rights than other people.”
Jacob, a 16-year-old A-Level student, agreed with this view: “some may say young people have made a sacrifice during lockdown, but surely hasn’t the majority of the population?” Finger pointing between the two groups, with both feeling hard done by, “could lead to yet social and economic divisions between the generations.”
“I think if everyone in the UK really is vaccinated by September it is not a massive issue,” said Essex-based Natalya Lobanova, “however if it goes on for longer, or if there are shortcuts offered to young, wealthier people, then it’ll breed resentment.”
Stopping the spread
The risk of vaccinated people infecting others also came up, with uncertainty still remaining over whether those vaccinated can still spread Covid: “Presumably the staff working in hotels and restaurants would be young and unvaccinated, which could put them at risk as we don’t yet know if the vaccine stops you from spreading the disease. This seems doubly unjust on younger people.”
“The idea of vaccine passports is scientifically unsound,” said Oliver Kim, an academic. “Most of the vaccines are estimated to give about 90 per cent protection and opening borders to vaccinated people will still let them spread it. We need to wait until mass vaccination brings the prevalence of Covid low enough before easing restrictions globally.”
“Can we be sure vaccines do stop the spread,” asked another. “Until we can be absolutely confident on that, it seems like countries asking for vaccine passports might be jumping the gun a bit.”
For many, unwittingly causing more Covid transmission was a key worry. “Typically, the younger generation has been blamed for spreading Covid, especially as the stereotypical view is they tend to break the rules more than other social groups,” said Jacob. “The older generation booking holidays freely would be a reversal of that, but could also potentially allow young people to become complacent or misinterpret the new rules.”
“I think it will make it harder to get younger people to comply with restrictions,” agreed another. “Younger generations spent over a year sacrificing to save the older generation. If at the first opportunity they get they go on holiday, surely many young people will think, ‘why keep on making sacrifices?’ And it certainly doesn't help that politically and economically there's already a big gap between the two groups.”
As for the ‘older generation’ in question? Most are fairly relaxed over the issue. “When you get the Covid vaccination, you get a little card, so a 'vaccine passport' already exists of sorts,” said Fraser, a 54-year old from Essex. “I’m eager to travel again, but I’m not scheduled to get the jab until the end of July, and I’m not holding my breath for that date either.”
“I'm fine about going on holiday when others can't,” added cartoonist Guy Venables. “Usually it's the other way around! As for any vaccine passport, I've already heard people talking of forging their way out of it, so I don't think it'd work anyway. Just look at Lawrence Fox's attempt at his mask exemption.”
What do you think? Add your voice to the debate in the comments below.