The latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that 60% of the British public support the introduction of “vaccine passports” to verify that an individual has been vaccinated. On the other hand, 17% oppose and 20% neither support nor oppose. Support for vaccine passports is particularly high among respondents aged 45 to 54 (71% approve) and lowest among respondents ages 18 to 34 (49% to 50% approve). Among those aged 65 or older—the ones who would be the first beneficiaries of vaccine passports—support is at 63%, slightly above the average for the population as a whole. Politically, those who voted Conservative in 2019 are somewhat more supportive of vaccine passports (68% support) than those who voted for Labour (56% support), which is likely a reflection of the age profile of the voters of each party.
Opposition is, for obvious reasons, strongest among those who say they will not get vaccinated when the coronavirus vaccine becomes available to them in the next year. 44% of this sub-group say they would oppose the decision to introduce vaccine passports. However, this sub-group represents only 12% of those who say they have not been vaccinated yet.
There are two main ways in which vaccine passports could be used: a more limited use would be simply for international travel, allowing those who have been vaccinated to travel abroad and potentially to shorten or avoid quarantines. A second possible use would be domestically, limiting entrance to venues such as pubs or concert halls to those who have already been vaccinated. Naturally older people would benefit from this first since they have been prioritised for vaccination, therefore creating a perception of unfairness that they would then be the only ones able to visit a pub or attend a concert, unlike younger people. However, once the UK vaccination programme is able to provide a vaccine to the majority of the UK population, this concern about generational injustice would no longer be pressing, and instead the main group that would remain affected by the domestic use of vaccine passports would be those people who refused to receive a vaccine, prompting criticism that the Government would indirectly be coaxing the population into receiving a vaccination that is technically optional and that saw a considerably shorter approval process than traditionally has been the case for other vaccines.
When presented with these various options of how vaccine passports could be used in the UK, our research finds that 62% would be willing to carry a vaccine passport for all circumstances, and a further 22% would be able to carry one but only for international travel. As a result, a cumulative 84% indicated they would be willing to carry a vaccine passport for international travel. Only 15% of respondents would not be willing to carry one even if it was only for international travel, like a standard passport.
These figures broadly align to the responses we received when we asked respondents if they would support the use of vaccine passports by businesses such as pubs, where 54% of respondents said they would be supportive. Thus, while support for vaccine passports to be used within the UK by businesses such as pubs is lower than support for their use for international travel, our figures nonetheless show majority support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, support for the use of vaccine passports by pubs (and similar businesses) is higher among those who have already received a vaccine (63% support) than among those who have not received one yet (50% support). Likewise, among those who have not yet received a vaccine, support for the use of vaccine passports by pubs (and other businesses) is much higher among those who would be willing to get vaccinated (59% support) than among those who are unwilling to get vaccinated (only 27% support vaccine passports for pubs and restaurants).
Ultimately, just like the UK’s vaccination programme is viewed by most of the country—and the Government—as the key to ending the coronavirus crisis in the UK, vaccine passports could be accepted by many as a viable option for facilitating the reopening not only of international travel, but also of domestic businesses such as pubs. If the Government chooses to continue exploring this pathway, it is likely that it will encounter limited opposition: although it is true that the young and the unvaccinated are somewhat less supportive of the policy, the difference in support levels is not dramatic, and it is likely to erode as an ever-increasing proportion of the population is given access to a vaccine.