The vexed question of domestic covid immunity passports remains in the balance. The general tone and drift of the government is that they are going to happen. Yesterday’s ID card munching journalist is today’s prime minister, ordering passport trials to go ahead. A recent Roadmap Review published by the government noted that covid immunity passports are ‘likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes’, and that they ‘could have an important role to play…as a temporary measure’. At the same time, retailers and the hospitality sector have recoiled against the idea, even though the majority of their customers want them. Rather late in the day, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has come out with a mealy mouthed ‘can have a role, but important to strike the right balance’ type statement that merely adds more mud to the already turbid waters. A while back, the Royal Society produced a similar sitting on the fence report. On twitter, covid immunity passport nuts queue up to post ‘TBH, I don’t really want to eat in the same places as anti vaccine loons’ and ‘the only people refusing [vaccines] are idiots, if two-tier society means less idiots around me I’m fine with that’. Truly, we are already a nation divided — and about to be ruled.

Church leaders have for once done rather better. Over 1200 have already signed a vigorous letter to the prime minister warning that covid immunity passports will lead to a ‘surveillance state’ and ‘medical apartheid’. They point out, correctly, that no church standing in the name of Christ should ever close its doors to anyone, let alone those deemed to be ‘social undesirables’, on the basis of an ill-thought out government sponsored social credit scheme. They also point out, albeit rather obliquely, the  fallacy at the heart of the covid immunity passport scheme, and all those who crave it: those who shout the loudest for its adoption are the least in need of it, for in their righteousness they are sure to get vaccinated themselves. They will be able to eat in the same places as anti vaccine loons with impunity, because they will already have immunity.

Let’s look at this more closely. Let’s consider the Last Night of the Proms 2021, run without any form of covid passport, along lines seen in pre-covid years. Packed in tightly in their thousands, the audience wave banners and flags to mix up the air as they sing at the tops of their voices, a respiratory virus’s dream event. Who might be in the audience? Most, perhaps 80% or more, will have immunity to covid-19, either through vaccination, or prior infection. They are no threat to others, and, at the same time, are not at risk themselves. The remaining 20%, who do not have immunity, for whatever reason, are at risk of infection, but they have freely chosen to accept that risk. They are in the exact opposite position to those who have immunity: they are a potential threat to other non-immune people, and , at the same time, are at risk of getting infected themselves. But that’s OK, because they have freely and mutually  chosen to accept that risk, because they believe that a life not lived is not a life worth living.

That free choice, or exercised liberty, is crucial, and is in principle no different to the risks accepted for example in sports that carry risks of injury and death. No climber goes up a mountain to fall off it and maim themselves, but some nonetheless do; no sailor goes to sea to fall in and drown, but some nonetheless do. Yet we still climb mountains, and sail the seas, because the world would be a lesser place, and our lives lived within it would be lesser lives, if we did not do these things.

Now make one change to the Last Night of the Proms: add a requirement to show a covid immunity passport before admission to the hall. At a stroke 20% of the audience are excluded – a definite harm, of loss and liberty. And the benefit? None. The 80% who are allowed in were never at risk in the first place, because they are immune. The whole covid immunity passport exercise is a stupendous nonsense, a traffic wardens dream come true. Unless, that is…

To conclude this post it is fitting to quote Enoch Powell, speaking in the Commons in 1973 against the introduction of compulsory helmets for motor cyclists. Whatever you may think of Enoch Powell, he knew how to orate. Pay particular attention to the last but one paragraph, and reflect on how much has changed in the last half century.

“The last and the most beguiling argument—and I imagine it is the argument which operates upon those hon. Members who will reject my argument and that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South—is that if this crime is created there will be fewer road casualties from this cause. That is the most alarming argument of all that could be used in this House of Commons: that because by doing so we could reduce the number of deaths from a particular cause—not deaths inflicted by other people’s carelessness, not deaths resulting from the omission of precautions which those who manufacture articles or sell them could have been caused to take, but deaths resulting from private and uniquely personal decisions—therefore we can make it a crime to take that sort of risk.

“That argument is the most dangerous because it is the most beguiling. When one bastion after another of individual freedom, of independence, is breached, it does not happen in an unpopular context. It does not happen when the reasons for doing so are unattractive. It does so when sentiment and emotion and the feelings of all of us are engaged. None of us likes to contemplate the notion of a young man whose life could have been saved being lost because he was not wearing a crash helmet. Our first natural instinct and reaction, having legislative power in our hands, is to use that legislative power.

“But that is where the danger lies. The abuse of legislative power by this House is far more serious and more far-reaching in its effects than the loss of individual lives through foolish decisions. I say just that and I repeat that, as a Member of the House of Commons speaking to the House of Commons. The maintenance of the principles of individual freedom and responsibility is more important than the avoidance of the loss of lives through the personal decision of individuals, whether those lives are lost swimming or mountaineering or boating, or riding horseback, or on a motor cycle.

“We are sent here to make laws and to preserve liberties. If we allow this regulation to stand, we shall have failed in the duties we were sent here to perform.”


  1. Hilary Wallace Reply

    I feel that vaccine passports are a way to ´punish’ those of us who have not been compliant and make an example of us. We will continue to have life made us uncomfortable as possible until we buckle and conform. The compliant public will then have no choice but to comply with whatever is demanded of them or face the same fate as those poor souls who were ostracised from society. Health doesn’t even come into this as it’s all about control.

  2. Misa Reply

    It appears to me that there are two elements which you have not addressed, Dr No.

    In the first place, we have the fact that vaccines are not 100% effective, so those choosing not to take the vaccine are not only placing themselves at risk, but they are increasing the risk for all. It may be that by being vaccinated a person has only reduced their risk from very small to almost zero, or that amongst the vaccinated there are some who do not develop any immunity. In the eyes of the zealot it is the fact that vaccines are not perfect that means we should all obliged to take them. I believe conceding to people who think along these lines is dangerous, but this argument may well be popular.

    In the second place we have people who, whether they wish to or not, are unable to take the vaccine. No doubt some would argue that these people are ,to a great extent, protected by widespread uptake of the vaccine (encouraged by the use of vaccine passports), but these people will presumably be excluded from places in which a vaccine passport is required, irrespective of whether they wish to accept any risk to themselves in going there, on the grounds that they may pose some tiny risk to (imperfectly) vaccinated people present.

    The existence of this second group – those unable to receive the vaccination – ought to make vaccine passports entirely unacceptable.

  3. Shawn Reply

    Vaccine passports will be to this summer what logging in to the test and trace app was last year: An annoyance that is enforced by less and less places until it becomes meaningless. In this way the government will absolve it self of responsibility as it has done throughout the pandemic.

  4. Tom Welsh Reply

    I thoroughly enjoyed the irony of this:

    “On twitter, covid immunity passport nuts queue up to post ‘TBH, I don’t really want to eat in the same places as anti vaccine loons’ and ‘the only people refusing [vaccines] are idiots, if two-tier society means less idiots around me I’m fine with that’”.

    People who use Twitter calling other people “loons”?

    People who eagerly rush to be vaccinated (with untested concoctions) calling other people “idiots”?

  5. dr-no Reply

    Hilary – Dr No agrees, it is all about control (“Unless, that is… (there is another agenda]”).

    Misa – Dr No again agrees, and these are important points. They are also a can of worms, which is why he didn’t mention them in the post, as he wanted to keep it running on the main line (the post is primarily about passports, though of course they are intimately bound up with vaccination), rather than getting side-tracked on branch lines. He knew he could rely on them coming up in comments!

    The effectiveness question is a can of worms because the more ineffective the vaccine, the more meaningless a vaccine passport. At what level does it become so meaningless as to be pointless? 80% effectiveness (so 20% of passport holders are potential bio-hazards?). The argument that vaccine ineffectiveness means more people should be (coerced into being) vaccinated is both the law of diminishing returns and the sunk cost fallacy rolled into one monstrous authoritarian backlash. But, as you say, it is likely to be popular, not just with the public, but also with politicians, more’s the pity.

    The unable to take a vaccine for medical reason group (as opposed to those unwilling to take a vaccine for personal reasons) are a special case. Certainly, as you say, they are reason alone not to introduce vaccine passports, because it introduces clear discrimination. But Dr No can’t help wondering: how many people are actually in this group? With vaccination rates running at 94% and over in the vaccinated age groups, how many of the non-vaccinated are non-vaccinated for medical reasons, and how many for personal reasons? The actual true medical contraindications to covid vaccination are remarkably few (and for the record pregnancy is not medical until it goes wrong) and may even amount to none, at least for a first dose, apart from a history of systemic allergic reaction to any of the vaccine’s components (and possibly severe immunosuppression for AZ type vaccines):

    Green Book: “The vaccine should not be given to those who have had a previous systemic allergic reaction (including immediate-onset anaphylaxis) to:
    ● a previous dose of the same COVID-19 vaccine
    ● any component (excipient) of the COVID-19 vaccine e.g. polyethylene glycol (PEG)

    BNF: Contra-indications For all VACCINES
    Contra-indications, further information [None…]
    Impaired immune response
    Public Health England advises severely immunosuppressed patients should not be given live vaccines (including those with severe primary immunodeficiency). [Might apply to the AZ type vaccines]

    The bottom line is that the number of individuals who have a true medical contraindication to all of the covid-19 vaccines is vanishingly small. It looks as though this may be a can of worms that has no worms in it…

    Shawn – that would be a very sensible pragmatic solution, if rather tedious, were it not for the passport loons, and the hospitality owners and event organisers who find two-tier society very much to their liking (eg the Crucible, where entry is dependent of a recent negative LFT. No one told the Crucible to do this, they just find it very much to their liking).

    Tom – exactly…

  6. John B Reply

    1. Vaccine passport system will not be workable unless children/babies/teens – a large chunk of the population – get vaccinated. Yet it is known this group is not at risk, nor a source of spread of infection. Is there enough vaccine to do this in a short time span?

    2. We were told vaccination was the magic bullet, the way to get back to normal: in France ‘the only solution’. However we are being told now, that vaccination is just ‘part’ of the effort to stop the spread/protect hospitals/save lives/eliminate the virus (whatever is la raison du jour) and even if everyone or nearly everyone is vaccinated, still we shall need all the other paraphernalia.

    The USA’s Chief Poo Bah for health says vaccinated people should still wear a mask, because… reasons.

    3. We cannot remove restriction in case the sneaky virus flares up again… how exactly? So we must take care not to have a Third Wave or Fourth Wave for some allegedly already having their Third Wave despite no actual data showing it. And then there are the visions variants coming at us thick and fast which might be resistant to the vaccines. We may be waving well into the foreseeable future.

    4. The fact the ‘cases’, deaths, admissions in the UK has fallen since January to near nothing, was until yesterday attributed to the fantastic vaccine programme, but today the News has changed and it’s all been thanks to masks and lockdowns – and not at all change of season as happened last year with the actual epidemic.

  7. Mary Reply

    I think the domestic vaccine passport is a bit of a red herring to let people shout themselves hoarse over. It seems an unworkable thing and if brought in, would surely soon be disused and abandoned. But by means of this distraction, the potentially far greater evil of international vaccine documentation will become the law. It is far easier to enforce and maintain because there’s already much checking of documentation at borders. And “Because Yellow Fever” seems to hush the few who might have wanted to raise objections to it.

  8. Annie Davenport Turner Reply

    I think the sea is full of thousands of red-herring to entice a great deal of shouting. But in the background is the massive blue whale; even its colour creating the illusion that it’s only ocean. The whale must be seen and responded to before it’s too late. A quick trip – if that be possible with its blue whale size – around the website of the World Economic Forum (taking in what’s actually in the box as well as on the label on the lid) is suggested, before we and the red herring are taken for krill.

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