The Daily Telegraph

They’re both right, says PM, as ministers support both sides of paradox

- By Michael Deacon

‘What we want to do is avoid vaccine passports but you’ve got to keep things in reserve in case things change’

Should we have to carry vaccine passports, or not? If you’ve any idea, please tell the Government. Because it seems even more confused than the rest of us.

Months ago, Nadhim Zahawi – the vaccines minister – announced that the Government wouldn’t bring in vaccine passports, because it wasn’t “the right thing to do”. Then last week he announced that actually the Government was bringing in vaccine passports, on the grounds that it was “the right thing to do”.

On Sunday, however, Sajid Javid – the Health Secretary – announced that the Government wasn’t bringing in vaccine passports after all (“I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead”).

Bewilderme­nt reigned. So yesterday, a reporter asked Boris Johnson which of his two ministers was right. Thankfully, the PM was only too happy to help. “They’re both right,” he said.

While the reporter attempted to work out how a policy could simultaneo­usly be both alive and dead (had it been swallowed by Schrödinge­r’s cat?), the Prime Minister burbled cheerfully on.

“What we want to do,” he explained, “is avoid vaccine passports if we possibly can. That’s the course we’re on. But I think you’ve got to be prudent, and you’ve got to keep things in reserve in case things change. “Obviously that’s right.”

So in short: the Government isn’t bringing in vaccine passports. But it might. Either way, it doesn’t want to. Just like it didn’t want to raise taxes. Until it did.

One thing we do know, at least, is that ministers will be told to offer a vaccine to children aged 12-15. This was confirmed at a press conference by Chris Whitty, who was joined (via Zoom) by his fellow chief medical officers from around the UK, as well as (in person) by the chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccinatio­n and Immunisati­on).

In his by now familiar manner – gentle, tentative, like a vole peeping warily from its burrow – Prof Whitty sought to make a case that was nuanced and balanced. The CMOS had decided to recommend the jab, he said, because for children in this age group “the benefits exceed the risk”, even if only by “a small margin”. He added, though, that there should be “no stigmatisa­tion” of anyone, whether they accepted a jab or declined. It was “an offer, and I want to stress the word ‘offer’ … We’re not saying to children, ‘You must, must, must, must, must’ …”

Of course, acknowledg­ement of complexity – especially over an issue as sensitive as this – is important. On the other hand, there may be parents who would have preferred a firm, loud and simplistic roar of encouragem­ent (“YES! Steam right in, folks! Get your kids jabbed now!”), if only to make their decision easier.

Perhaps this is a job for the PM. Making complex decisions sound simple is one of his core skills.

Then again, after this muddle over vaccine passports, perhaps not.

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