You can justify vaccine passports on liberal grounds. Of course you can: we just kept people from leaving their homes for months. If you can justify that in a pandemic, you can certainly justify vaccine passports. But even so, it is an intrusive and coercive act in which the state conditions legal activities on the proof of medical status. So for it to be valid, it must prove two things. First, what is necessary. And second, that it would work.
Yesterday, Boris Johnson announced vaccine passports in September for clubs or other closed and crowded places with close contact. So is it necessary? This question operates in two ways: Would it reduce transmission and promote absorption of the vaccine?
It would take a PhD in quantum mechanics, or perhaps criminal psychology, to answer the question of transmission using the narrative that the government has provided. At a very basic level, it doesn’t make sense. If passports are necessary, why are the clubs open now, packed with people, despite weeks of warnings that they would act as high-profile events? What is necessary in September would be logically necessary now. And if necessary, the clubs shouldn’t be open at all before the passports exist.
But even if they were closed now and only opened in September along with passports, it is unclear why they would be effective.
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Having a double prick does not prevent you from contracting coronavirus and it does not prevent you from spreading it. Vaccines are an incredible success story. They greatly help reduce infections, hospitalizations, and death. But they are not a guarantee.
We all surely recognize this by now, since most of us will have people we know personally or anecdotally who have contracted the double-prick virus. But in case we are not, it was confirmed yesterday by Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance, who said that 40% of covid hospitalizations are currently from vaccinated people.
The government’s plan eliminates social distancing and then uses covid passports to make those who have been beaten feel like they can do whatever they want inside a facility. That’s a recipe for increasing infections, which will then be passed on to those outside the establishment.
The strongest argument seems to be that it would encourage young people to take hits. Johnson told us yesterday that 35% of 18-30 year olds haven’t had their first hit yet. But the vaccine has only been available to everyone over the age of 18 for a month, a period in which implementation has slowed. For many of them, it simply would have been impossible to get the jab.
There are some signs that vaccine hesitancy is slightly higher in young people, but there is no firm basis to suspect that it is still a major problem. At the beginning of the year, there were signs that doubts about ethnic minority vaccines were also more pronounced. The answer in that case was convince instead of threatening. It works well. An Ipsos Mori survey found that vacillation among ethnic minorities fell from 22% to 6% between January and March.
It is extraordinary that young people are the only age group that we have decided to pre-emptively threaten with coercive measures before they have had time to do what we want. First, they give up their lives for 18 months to protect the elderly and the vulnerable. They are then treated as a herd immunity experiment with a total opening before receiving the vaccine. Then they are bullied into doing something they haven’t even stopped doing yet.
Would passports work? Some people seem to have a lot of confidence in them. Issue 10 evidently took a look at what has been happening in France recently and liked what he saw. A week ago, President Emmaneul Macron announced so-called ‘health passes’ – documents that show whether someone has been vaccinated, received a recent negative test result, or recovered from covid. They will be necessary to enter cafes, restaurants, hospitals or take long-distance trains. During the 48 hours after the announcement, more than 2.2 million Vaccination appointments were scheduled. Downing Street clearly thought they’d like a little of that.
But the picture is much more complex. France, unlike Great Britain, has a significant and long-standing vaccine hesitancy problem. And the first signs of success now seem less impressive. Over the weekend, more than 100,000 people protested the plans in at least 136 demonstrations, many of them led by the extreme right. In his wake, Macron slashed planned fines and postponed them to an unspecified date.
We have seen a similar image in Israel, where a Green Pass system was used. Covid passport advocates have celebrated what happened there, but investigate suggests that the most effective measures have not been coercive, but have focused on compromise and accessibility.
Mobile vaccination units were brought to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei-Brak, for example, or geographically remote Arab towns, and even central Tel Aviv nightlife areas, offering free food and drink, with experts available to answer questions and concerns.
This is consistent with academic research, which he found that the coercive measures for vaccines “increased the level of anger among people with a very negative vaccination attitude.” Increase the suspicions of those who doubt vaccinations, rather than address them.
Yesterday there were some startling images of anti-lock guys in central London. They were a mixed bag of conspiracy theorists, proto-libertarians, anti-vaccines, and lockdown skeptics. They were angry and rebellious. But ultimately, they were few in number. The best way to increase their numbers is to participate directly in their narratives about coercive state activity. The best way to reduce it is to speak respectfully to people about your concerns about the vaccine.
The fact that we are having this debate is really insane. The government is behaving as if it has lost all sense of coherence, consistency or intellectual capacity. Sunday night he opened everything. Monday morning he seemed alarmed by what had naturally happened. And on Monday afternoon he was threatening ineffective public health enforcement measures to address a problem he had created himself.
The Covid passport debate is complex. It’s one of those areas where people of good faith can legitimately disagree, because it involves a complex balance of freedom and utility. But when you take it apart, it can come down to the problem it is supposed to solve and to what extent it does so. In this case, no requirement is met. It’s just another silly half-thought idea from an administration that specializes in them. We should treat it as such.