Recent polls have shown that a majority of British people support vaccine passports. But this enthusiasm isn’t shared among young people, ethnic minorities, and those in poor areas—the same groups that have exhibited some of the lowest levels of vaccine confidence in the country. Though the British government has taken proactive steps to address people’s concerns about the vaccines, including targeted messaging campaigns and pop-up vaccination clinics, those efforts could mean little if the same communities that are looking for assurances from the government are simultaneously being told that their ability to reenter public life is conditioned on their willingness to get a shot. Such an approach not only risks amplifying distrust, but could also provide fodder for anti-vaxxers wishing to cast doubt on the vaccines and the public-health institutions promoting them.
“If you have vaccine inequalities by ethnicity, by race, and also by social deprivation, and you add vaccine passports for basic social activities onto that, you begin to get vaccine apartheid,” Stephen Reicher, a member of a group of behavioral scientists that advises the British government’s pandemic-response committee, told me. “If you want to get people to do things like get vaccinated, community engagement is what is central. And precisely at a time when you want community engagement, the worst thing you could do is [impose] a measure that could alienate those communities and could lead them to be less likely to take the vaccine.”