Covid vaccine passports: Here's the case against and what Scotland should do instead – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

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I can’t believe I have to say this, but you should never have to provide your medical history to a bouncer to get into a night club.

Proposals from the new SNP-Green coalition government will require exactly that. Vaccine certification, also referred to as domestic Covid passports, will require people to present evidence of being double-jabbed before they are allowed to access certain venues or services in our society.

They are medical ID cards in all but name and Scottish Liberal Democrats are leading the fight against their introduction.

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For the first time, you will be asked to provide your private medical data to a stranger to enjoy certain freedoms in our society. When it comes to the vaccine you might not think that sounds like much, but for many it represents an important line in the sand, and it won’t help drive down Covid transmission in a meaningful way.

We now know that the vaccines don’t stop you getting Covid, nor do they stop you passing it on. Asking that everyone present a certificate before entry to a nightclub or a sports ground could give people a false sense of security, perhaps leading them to let their guard down. Some may abandon some of the precautions we’ve all adopted these past 18 months, and that could actually lead to increased transmission.

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Far better would be to ask that customers present a negative lateral flow test to confirm their Covid status before entry. Lateral flow test requirements are different than vaccine certification because they don’t compel you to have a form of treatment and then present a record of that treatment to access freedoms in our society.

Test results give you and venue staff a snap shot of your health on a particular day. Like a breathalyser on the side of the road in the hands of a police officer, they don’t ask that you share something that should remain private between you and your GP.

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Clubbers could show evidence of a negative Covid test, rather than reveal their vaccine status to gain entry to venues (Picture: Chris Eades/Getty Images)Clubbers could show evidence of a negative Covid test, rather than reveal their vaccine status to gain entry to venues (Picture: Chris Eades/Getty Images)
Clubbers could show evidence of a negative Covid test, rather than reveal their vaccine status to gain entry to venues (Picture: Chris Eades/Getty Images)

If the government wants to increase vaccine uptake in those groups in our society that are hesitant, then I’m not sure that the threatened removal of their freedoms is going to cut the mustard.

In France, where vaccine certification has been the norm for months, there is already a black market in vaccine certificates. Furthermore, with vaccine uptake at over 75 per cent among white 18 to 29-year-olds while only 55 per cent of black and ethnic minority groups in the same age bracket, the impact of these exclusions will be felt disproportionately by minorities.

The clubs and venues where Covid passports will be required have been some of the businesses most badly affected by the pandemic. They are also up in arms about another government policy that could present problems in terms of management and footfall.

There is no proposed end date to this policy and an open door to its expansion. There is no clarity on how it will deal with people vaccinated elsewhere or how it will comply with data protection laws. In short, this is an illiberal policy which would set a very dangerous precedent about the use of our private medical data.

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Vaccines are our certainly our way out of the pandemic, but vaccine passports are not.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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