The question surrounding whether or not the UK Government can fairly restrict those declining to have a coronavirus vaccine is one on the minds of many at the moment.

With the Government’s plans for the easing of lockdown measures being announced, could the future see vaccine passports introduced to allow people to attend entertainment venues, go on holiday, or even enter the world of work?

The Vaccine Story So Far

On the 2nd December 2020, a shining light of hope opened up at the end of the long, dark tunnel we’d been travelling through since around February earlier that year.

The United Kingdom became the first country in the world to approve a vaccine protecting against COVID-19 following a large clinical trial.

Just seven months after the start of clinical trials, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for emergency-use authorisation and, just six days after approval, the first person was successfully vaccinated outside of those trials.

A week before her 91st birthday, Margaret Keenan, donning her very best festive outfit, was vaccinated in a move which Heath Secretary Matt Hancock said was “the start of the fightback against our common enemy, the coronavirus.”

This first vaccine, and subsequent variations, split the world down the middle. For many, it was a cause for celebration; finding out that there was an exit date for the seemingly endless cycle of lockdown measures looming ever closer was a happy occasion. Others doubted the validity of the clinical trials and were sceptical when it came to possible side effects of the jab.

The debate between these two factions wages on even now, months later, after well over 20 million people have received the first dose out of the two they will need of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccinations.

What is a Vaccine Passport?

It’s not a new idea but the notion of vaccine passports – a form of ID which will confirm you’ve received one dose, or both doses, of one of the two vaccines currently on offer – have been hotly debated over the past few months.

So hotly contested in fact that a petition on the Government’s petitions website, with now almost 250,000 signatures at the time of writing this blog post, is circulating online.

As it has surpassed 100,000 signatures, Parliament will now consider the petition, entitled “Do not rollout Covid-19 vaccine passports” [sic], for a debate in the House of Commons. As it stands, the petition is awaiting a date for said debate to be arranged.

On the other hand, a roll out of vaccine passports to those who’ve been inoculated could spell out a boost for the economy.  That’s according to Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who indicated his support for the idea of offering certificates for those who’ve had the jab to enter venues or events as it might be a way for the suffering entertainment industry to recover somewhat from the damage inflicted by the worst of the pandemic last year.

“Obviously it is a complicated but potentially very relevant question for helping us reopen those parts of our country like mass events,” he said in an interview with the BBC on Sunday.

No Jab, No Job

For most people, it’s unlikely that employers will be allowed to require their current workers to be vaccinated to continue working with them, with Downing Street saying it would be ‘discriminatory’ to force people to be jabbed to keep their job. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said: “Taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.”

However, some firms have already expressed an interest in bringing in different rules for new starters at their companies, with Care UK being among the first to announce a ‘no jab, no job’ scheme being written into their contracts for newbies, as well as London-based company, Pimlico Plumbers.

Chairman of the latter, Charlie Mullins, said it was a ‘no-brainer’ that his staff become inoculated against the COVID-19 virus, with those not wanting to comply to the new rules having their future employment considered on a case by case basis. Mullins also said his firm wouldn’t be taking on any staff who haven’t had the jab in the future.

However, employment lawyers claim this kind of policy could be risky for businesses as, legally, companies cannot force their employees to take a vaccine. Employees with more than two years’ service could claim unfair dismissal, according to Thrive Law’s Managing Director, Jodie Hill.

So with between 300,000 and 600,000 people in the UK getting vaccinated every single day, only time will tell whether or not a vaccine passport scheme is the route to freedom from coronavirus restrictions we’re all hoping to see in 2021.

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