May 2021

I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time preparing evidence for parliamentary committee reviews, but there’s a first time for everything. The following is a slightly edited version of a piece submitted in response to the Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Committee’s call for evidence on Covid 19 vaccine certification. I’ve also written to various national newspapers on the topic, but none seem particularly interested. As you’ll see if you can be bothered to read on, I think it’s pretty important…

I am neither Covid-denier nor anti-vaxxer. I believe the Covid 19 pandemic has been a real threat, and I have done my best to support and comply with measures deployed to combat it. It also seems clear that safe, effective vaccines can play an important role in responding to Covid 19 and other diseases.

Nevertheless, some Covid 19 measures have compromised basic freedoms and human rights; may cause significant harms; and are supported by evidence that is, at best, debatable. Approaches to securing compliance have included promoting fear of the virus, as well as leveraging peer pressure and shaming. 

It may be argued that the above can be justified to save lives in an emergency. However, it remains fundamentally undemocratic, and cannot be allowed to persist in planning for the future.

It is also disturbing that similar psychological pressures have been applied to encouraging uptake of Covid 19 vaccinations. Vaccination, like any medical intervention, must remain subject to the requirement for informed consent. Coercion of competent individuals, whatever form it may take, is incompatible with sound medical ethics, and completely unacceptable.

A system that awards rights to those who prove they are vaccinated, whilst denying the same rights to those who do not, is a form of coercion. This is precisely what vaccine certification will be: a digital ID system that discloses part of the holder’s personal medical record, allowing or denying them access to basic freedoms like travel, work or gathering with friends in a pub. 

Why does this matter? Most people see vaccine certification as a temporary measure to help deal with the Covid 19 pandemic. But is that really true? 

Once this infrastructure is built can it – and will it – be simply dismantled? And once we establish the principle that government may require citizens to undergo medical procedures for the benefit of society, rather than just themselves, or lose basic freedoms, where exactly might it stop? I fear history may have some uncomfortable answers for us here.

Is it truly inconceivable that incompetence, conflicts of interest or human error could exist in any future government, their advisors or regulatory frameworks? Unless it is, we must retain appropriate checks and balances to their powers. In the case of medical interventions and public health, this is exactly what the requirement to gain informed consent provides.

Informed consent is integral to medical ethics for good reasons, which extend beyond the bounds of medicine and science into politics, philosophy and human nature. As a form of coercion, vaccine certification is incompatible with informed consent, and constitutes an assault on current medical ethics.

Furthermore, implementing vaccine certification for Covid 19 now, when most people in the UK are at low risk of serious illness or death from it, potentially opens the door to using the same system for a range of other diseases. Neither this, nor any of the ramifications discussed above, have been properly explored in media coverage of vaccine certification, or the subject of worthwhile public debate.

As a citizen and a parent, I do not feel I could forgive myself for failing to stand up against vaccine certification. Nor could I easily forgive elected representatives who fail to ensure that their constituents fully understand the implications of the measure; have ample opportunity to debate them fairly and openly; and get the chance to vote on it before implementation.