The idea of forcing people to show vaccine passports to enter pubs is likely to be counterproductive and is “not a good idea”, a social psychologist advising the government has warned.
The sweeping restriction being considered by the government could compound hesitancy among those already sceptical of vaccines and depress jab uptake, said Prof Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B).
“I don’t think that the idea of vaccine passports to get into the pub is a good idea and I think in many ways they could be counterproductive,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He said “the notion of in effect making [vaccines] compulsory led to anger and to lowered uptake” among those who were already hesitant in a small survey in Israel, which is backed up in other international studies.
“One of the main factors in being against the vaccine is the sense that it’s not being done for our health but it’s being done to us, and to control us. And therefore you have lower uptake in communities who are more suspicious and have a more troubled relationship with the state. The problem is that by making things compulsory, you feed into that fear, you increase that sense of this is being done to us.”
Boris Johnson has sought to calm fears over the possible introduction of domestic and international coronavirus health certificates amid criticism. Ministers are reviewing the potential use of the former, which if imposed could result in access to hospitality venues being granted only if customers have been vaccinated, received negative tests, or developed antibodies through past infection.
Last month, the prime minister said: “There are deep and complex ethical issues we need to explore about what the role is for government in mandating … or indeed banning people from doing such a thing. We can’t be discriminatory against people who for whatever reason can’t have the vaccine, there might be medical reasons.”
However, he called for a review led by cabinet minister Michael Gove to assess the “scientific, moral, philosophical and ethical viewpoints” of the measures.
This week Johnson said no decisions had been taken yet and that in any case no such measures would be in place as early as the opening of pub gardens on 12 April.
“There are some people who for medical reasons can’t get a vaccination, pregnant women can’t get a vaccination at the moment, you’ve got to be careful about how you do this,” he said.
“You might only be able to implement a thorough-going vaccination passport scheme even if you wanted such a thing in the context of when absolutely everybody had been offered a vaccine.”
But while Reicher drew a distinction between domestic certificates and vaccine passports, he said “negative incentives” barring people from their everyday lives would lead people to behave “very negatively”.
“When it comes to excluding people from everyday lives things swap around,” he said. “And what’s more it leads to other problems like social division and social apartheid.
“We’d be in a position where those communities who are less likely to get vaccinated begin to be excluded from our city centres, from social life, and that would create a whole swath of social problems, it would destroy any sense of community which has been so positive in the pandemic. A [vaccine passport] in the UK is not a good idea.”