A strict or poorly-designed domestic Covid vaccine passport regime could unintentionally undermine the UK’s vaccination drive, MPs have been warned.
Experts said a system that required vaccination for access to non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants would likely be seen as effectively compelling people to get their jabs.
This could drive resentment and actually discourage wavering people from getting protected, they told the hearing of the All Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus.
Professor Steve Reicher, a top social psychologist from St Andrew’s University, told the group of parliamentarians: “There is a very traditional, well-known psychological process called reactance: that if you take away people’s autonomy, if you force them to do something, they will reassert their autonomy, even if that means not doing things that they would otherwise want to do.
“Making something compulsory, or at least doing something which leaves the perception of compulsion can actually undermine activities which otherwise people would do and might even want to do.”
Citing the example of a child not wanting to go to bed when told to do so, Professor Reicher added: “I think most of us would accept that to reopen our society, the critical issue is to up the rate of vaccination, and that depends upon community engagement.
“If a particular intervention, a particular form of vaccine passport creates alienation and undermines the level of vaccine take-up, then it’s counterproductive, then that limits our ability to make people safe and limits our ability to reopen our society at every level.”
The government is currently reviewing whether domestic vaccine passports could be required for some gatherings, and has suggested they could be useful for enabling mass events over the summer.
A preliminary report by the review in the policy also left the door open to imposing them for some non-essential domestic services, but said they would never be required for essential shops and services.
They are separate from vaccine, immunity, or testing status passports for travel abroad, which the government says will almost certainly be required as a condition of entry.
Take-up of the vaccine has been at the higher end of what was predicted, though variations remain: people from ethic minorities and those who live in lower-income areas have lower take-up.
Speaking after the evidence session on Tuesday, Baroness Karren Brady, member of the APPG, said the passports were clearly “no silverbullet” and that “a wider strategy is needed to keep the virus and new variants under control”.
“Sadly serious questions remain over how Covid passports would work and how effective they would be, whether for domestic events or international travel,” she said.
“We still don’t know how long immunity from vaccines lasts, whether a streamlined digital system can be introduced in time for this summer and if it will include Covid test results.
“The UK government should work with the aviation and events industries to provide answers to these practical challenges.”