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A Vaccination Passport?

BASW explores the idea and possible impact of vaccine passports on social work

The national news this week has been covering the possibility of some kind of ‘vaccination passport’. This short article looks at this idea and what it might mean for social workers and social work.

The idea

The basic idea is that there is a system that tells other people whether you have had a vaccination against Covid-19. What seems to be driving this is that even with vaccination, social distancing will have to continue for some time and that most public venues (for example, pubs, cinemas, sports events and night clubs) aren’t commercially viable with social distancing in place.

For example, a pub may need 100 customers on a Friday night to break even, but under social distancing rules can only take 10.  In this model the pub allows in 100 people who have the passport and turns away another 10 who haven’t got a passport.

The problem with this is that people aged under 30 aren’t scheduled for their first vaccination until July, and they perhaps make up the bulk of customers at pubs, cinemas and nightclubs. 

So a development of the idea, is that anyone who has had a covid test, and has tested negative, could also have ‘a passport’.

Implementing a passport also looks like being incredibly complicated and costly. Having an actual paper passport is probably too expensive and too easy to fake.  So an App might be the most probable solution, if the idea went ahead.

The issue here is that many people don’t have smartphones plus the Government hasn’t a great record of developing Apps.

Any system would require individuals to have certain income levels (to have the right phone), be sufficiently IT literate (to load up the data required) and organised (planning ahead).  All of which could be a barrier for people faced with poverty, those with learning disabilities and those facing crises.

From the Westminster Government perspective any passport scheme would also have to be developed in tandem with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.  People in England do go over the border to visit and vice versa. There are also political problems. Many Conservative Party MPs are actively opposed to the idea of a passport.

The government in Westminster has put out some incredibly confusing messages. Initially, the Prime Minister said the Government wasn’t looking at a vaccination passports, then said the Government was looking at passports, then another minister said they were just one option. This confusion probably reflects the political and practical complexities of the situation. There are now some small scale passport trials in progress.

The situation for social workers

BASW’s view is that social workers, and the users of social work services, should take the vaccination if they are offered it.  

The current legal situation is that existing employees cannot be required to take a vaccination, or prove their vaccination status, by their employer. However, some employers, as part of their recruitment process, may ask candidates to demonstrate that they have had the vaccine, or are willing to be vaccinated.

It is not too hard to imagine that some social care providers (e.g. residential care for the elderly) may ask for new employees to be vaccinated. However, at the time of writing BASW is not aware of any social work employers asking new recruits to demonstrate vaccination or a willingness to be vaccinated.

The situation for social work

If vaccination passports are introduced there is a real risk of a two-tier system.  This could mean that people in poverty who cannot afford the right smartphone, people with a learning disability, care experienced people -  and other groups who social workers routinely work with -  more likely to be in the tier without the passport and therefore routinely excluded from pubs, cinemas, sports events and night clubs.

The situation is changing rapidly. Even if the Government in Westminster decides to press ahead with some kind of proposal there is no guarantee that this will be approved by Parliament. 

BASW will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as necessary.