The NHS Covid-19 app could be adapted to show who has had the jab – and might then be used to ban people from hospitality venues.
Minister for vaccines Nadhim Zahawi said the jabs would not be compulsory, but suggested people who refuse to get one could be barred from restaurants, pubs and cinemas.
He said: “I think it is right that it is voluntary. People have to be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to be vaccinated or otherwise.”
Asked if there would be an immunity passport, Mr Zahawi said a person’s Covid vaccine status might be included in a phone app that would inform doctors of a person’s status.
He added: “But also I think you’d probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system as they’ve done with the app.
“The sort of pressure will come both ways: from service providers, who will say ‘look, demonstrate to us that you have been vaccinated’ – but also we will make the technology as easy and accessible as possible.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed at the Downing Street press conference that ministers are “looking” at whether the hospitality sector could refuse access to those who have not taken up a vaccine.
It came as 12,330 more Covid cases were recorded yesterday. A further 205 people have died, taking the total to 58,448.
In response to the possibility of developers looking at how the NHS Covid app could show who has had the jab, in an idea similar to immunity passports, campaign group Liberty fumed: “Not a chance.”
Policy chief Sam Grant said: “Immunity passports raise more questions than they answer.
“We don’t know how our privacy would be protected, who will have access to our data, or how it could be used in conjunction with other information.
“But perhaps even more concerning is the fact immunity passports could pave the way for a national ID system – an idea which has repeatedly been rejected as incompatible with building a rights-respecting society.
“Once immunity passports have been created their use could be expanded, resulting in people who don’t have immunity potentially being blocked from essential public services, work or housing – setting a dangerous precedent, with the most marginalised among us hardest hit.
“We have always supported proportionate action to protect lives, but immunity passports aren’t that.”
Experts are split on the ethics of immunity passports, while others have argued that vaccines have not yet been proven to guarantee immunity.
Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities at Oxford University, said: “It is unethical not to offer immunity passports. The sole ground for restricting liberty in a liberal society is when a person represents a threat to others. That is the justification for quarantine, isolation and lockdown.
“But if immunity reduces transmission, those with immunity represent no threat to others. It is outrageous that their liberty is being infringed. It’s like imprisonment without just cause.”
Dr Ana Beduschi, of University of Exeter Law School, who has carried out Government-funded research on health passports, said: “Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights.”
Alan Joyce, the chief of airline Qantas, said recently that passengers will in future need to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Contact-tracing system boss Baroness Dido Harding admitted at the weekend they are looking at the idea of displaying vaccine and test results on the NHS Covid app.
The Pfizer vaccine could be approved by the regulator any day now.
Meanwhile, tests suggest the Moderna jab is effective in all ages. It will be available in the UK from spring.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is reviewing safety data on jabs including the AstraZeneca/Oxford University one. If approved, the injections rollout could start from December 7.
Boris Johnson yesterday held a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, during a visit to the Wockhardt pharmaceutical base in Wrexham.
A DHSC spokesperson said:
“At present we do not have an authorised vaccine and we do not know if a vaccine will prevent transmission of the disease.
“Should a vaccine pass the strict safety and effectiveness standards of the medicines regulator, the MHRA, then it will be authorised for use across the UK and offered first to those groups most at risk and this will allow us to see what impact a vaccine has on the spread of the virus.
“Then we will have the information needed to decide the next steps to a path back to normality.”