Chris Green is MP for Bolton West and Atherton.
A narrative is being developed around Covid-19 that can have awful consequences. Fundamentally, it is that the only solution to the pandemic is to achieve a UK and then a global zero-Covid outcome. Obviously, this will require a vast amount of power to be transferred to governments for the foreseeable future.
Many people are “vaccine hesitant”, especially on behalf of their own children, so compulsion will be required to get the job done. Digital IDs, databases and other measures will be developed to enable a robust nudging operation and to ensure the smooth cross governmental working of complex systems.
The Health Secretary and Chief Medical Officer have already set out the right way to judge our performance in dealing with the pandemic. Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty have said that a key turning point will be achieved when the link between the transmission of the disease and death or hospitalisation has been severed. This will then begin to enable Covid-19 to be treated in a similar way to influenza.
I believe that the link has been severed so, while I would like the unwinding of lockdown to be quicker, I will accept waiting till June 21 but with no delay and no turning back.
Instead of a realistic understanding of our progress, the narrative for domestic vaccine passes, compulsory vaccination and even the vaccination of children is being developed and is getting stronger.
I am not too concerned with vaccination passports, in general, but I do worry that they are a Trojan Horse for a domestic pass. Initially, the domestic pass would be used for a small range of settings but could easily be expanded once established. My yellow fever vaccination came with a paper certificate that had all the necessary details but none of the civil liberty problems.
The decision on the domestic pass or Covid Status Certification is going to be made in early June. I rather hope that the Prime Minister would be as inclined to eat up this digital ID card as eagerly as he promised to eat a physical version. If he does, he will have ended the most likely enabler for compulsory vaccination.
If the CSC project goes ahead, and the narrative behind “zero Covid” grows ever louder propelled by the ever-present fear that the next variant will be so much more deadly, then the threat of compulsory vaccination looms larger.
The range of vaccines that we have are all considerably more effective than a typical influenza jab and they have maintained that high level of effectiveness from when they were first developed through a multitude of new variants that are either getting passed our leaky borders or are emerging domestically.
If fear drives the agenda the belief will take hold that we all must be vaccinated. The Covid Status Certification could rapidly evolve from just restricting access to large events controlling access to work, education and public transport.
Children rarely suffer from the disease but they are targeted by some as the living incubators of an ever-mutating pathogen. Children are not the problem and adults all have the option of a vaccination to assuage their fears.
We have had compulsory vaccination for children in the UK but that was to protect them from the dreadful smallpox rather than the vaccination of children to protect adults. Other countries do have systems of compulsory vaccination programmes and the Health Secretary has considered it in the past. He said, in reference to measles, “I think there’s a very strong argument for the movement to compulsory vaccination and I think the public would back us.”
Andy Burnham, the Mayor for Greater Manchester, has been calling for vaccinations for children as young as sixteen and trails are being run to approve vaccines for those as young as twelve.
Vaccines do carry health risks and it is possible for rare but extreme conditions to only emerge once many have already had the treatment. Is it moral to do this when the Covid-19 threat to children is known to be tiny?
Anyone looking at the Coronavirus dashboard should be reassured by the low level of deaths and number of Covid patients in hospital. The vaccines are working as they should but, with a hospital waiting list of 5,000,000, the NHS is not. Government priorities need to shift because we have a hard recovery ahead of us and we need to start as soon as possible.
This is no time for a permanent power grab by the State because a less free society is a less healthy society.