UK population opinion divided on vaccine passports according to new report

Author: Belong Network
Published: April 28, 2021

New findings show that opinion is divided in the UK regarding support for the introduction of vaccine passports and this is strongly linked with whether or not they themselves have received the vaccine.

This is according to research detailed in our new report, How accepting is the British public of COVID-19 vaccine passports, and why?, released today in partnership with the University of Kent and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The research carried out with people from different parts of the UK, found that 51.8% were somewhat or strongly supportive and 28% were somewhat or strongly opposed. 41.6% thought passports would not unfairly discriminate while 35.1% thought they would do so.

Those who had already received the vaccine were more positive (67.6%) than those who had not (39.8%). Fewer of those who had received the vaccine felt that passports would be unfair (22.4%) than of those who had not (44.7%).

The idea of vaccine passports has been highly contentious with mixed opinions in society, business, and the hospitality sector. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also recently stated that imposing a requirement to have a vaccine passport might contravene human rights.

The research, which is part of the Beyond Us and Them project funded by the Nuffield Foundation, identified some key factors affecting public opinion of vaccine passports.

Black respondents (identifying as Black, Black British, African or Caribbean) were much more likely to oppose vaccine passports (29.3% support, and 50.4% opposition) and consider them as unfairly discriminating against certain people and groups (58.4%).

Approval of vaccine passports was higher in those reporting ‘a lot’ to ‘complete’ trust in the government (64.5%) compared with those reporting ‘little’ to ‘no’ trust in the government (43.1%).

The research found no differences by gender, area of the country, disability, sexual orientation, or religion. Additionally, political orientation did not have an effect.

According to the report, whatever approach the government chooses to adopt, they need to find strategies to address political distrust and divisions between people.

Started in April 2020 and running until Summer 2021, Beyond Us and Them will provide one of the richest sources of academic data on people’s experiences in the UK during the pandemic. Researchers are using online surveys, one-to-one interviews and focus groups to track peoples’ experiences and views on how the pandemic is affecting their relationships, neighbourhoods and everyday lives with a final report due later this year. The research is also being used to develop recommendations on how other areas in the UK can boost social cohesion and build resilient communities.

Professor Dominic Abrams, director of the Centre for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Kent, said:  

“Our evidence highlights that people on both sides of the vaccine divide are likely to prioritise their own personal interests and it will be up to politicians to decide how to address that division to find an approach that achieves broad support. One of the factors clearly inhibiting support is people’s feelings of distrust in national politics, but if there is to be widespread use of vaccination certification for access to public and private spaces or travel then it will need to be implemented in ways that people trust and perceive to be fair, as well as proportionate. For example, there may need to be local or regional differences that would reflect the risk levels in those particular places or areas of activity. There would also need to be some exemptions and also ways to enable people to be vaccinated quickly if otherwise they may be excluded from access to significant roles and activities.”

Jo Broadwood, CEO of Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network, said: 

“The issue of vaccine passports has the potential to be a divisive one. If the concept is to be implemented concerns about unfairness, discrimination and trust must be addressed. Otherwise there is a risk that this issue will divide people rather than bring them together at a time when we need to foster greater trust and unity.”

Alex Beer, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation, said: 

“These survey findings echo research from the Ada Lovelace Institute which also found that people from ethnic minority backgrounds indicated higher levels of concern about being discriminated against as a result of the introduction of vaccine passports. Government and tech companies should exercise caution and consider the diversity of public attitudes and concerns before rolling out vaccine passports.”