I am glad that the UK has safe & effective vaccines to help protect people from Covid-19. Vaccines can reduce the risk of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. They also help children and adults from getting seriously ill even if they do get COVID-19. Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through rigorous clinical trials and safety checks. I am proud that the UK has some of the highest safety standards in the world.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has followed rigorous procedures to ensure the vaccines meet the high standards needed to be considered both safe and effective. So far, millions of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. The MHRA continues to monitor the potential side effects of all vaccines in the UK. Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic and I am incredibly encouraged by the excellent progress we are making in rolling out the vaccine. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection and, as a result, onward transmission.
While the Government wants as many people as possible to be vaccinated against Covid-19, the vaccine is not compulsory. On completion of both vaccinations, patients will be issued with a vaccine record card, much as they are for other vaccination programmes, so there is nothing different in the way we are dealing with this vaccine. Again, that does not constitute a so-called vaccine passport; nor can it be used as a form of identification. READ MORE ABOUT VACCINES
December 2021 Update on COVID-status certification/ Plan B Vote
The Omicron variant is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant, doubling every two to three days – risking a potentially serious rise in hospitalisations and deaths which could overwhelm our NHS. In light of this increased threat, the Government has decided to enact ‘Plan B’ which is designed to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
- Face masks to become compulsory in most public indoor venues, other than hospitality
- NHS Covid Pass to be mandatory in specific settings (unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people and nightclubs) using a negative test or full vaccination via the NHS Covid Pass
- Asking people asked to work from home if they can (not mandatory)
This decision is based on three key reasons - the dramatically increased transmissibility of the variant, the unknown severity of Omicron, and the likelihood that there is lower immunity from vaccination when compared to past variants.
We are not introducing 'vaccine passports' – a negative test is enough. The Government has listened to concerns from MPs and they are not proceeding with 'vaccine passports' as originally intended in Plan B – instead, negative tests will be allowed. Anyone will be able to attend mass events and nightclubs if they show proof of a negative lateral flow test, regardless of vaccination status. Anyone, including unvaccinated people, can get lateral flow tests for free from gov.uk or pharmacies and take them at home. People who have had two vaccine doses will not need to take a test.
I believe that these measures are proportionate and responsible. They do not make the vaccine compulsory. Plan B will hopefully slow down the spread of this variant and ensure the NHS isn’t overwhelmed this winter – as we continue to ramp up our booster programme, announcing a national mission to offer every eligible adult their booster before the New Year.
Plan B is not lockdown. Across Europe we have seen Austria in lockdown, Belgium closing its schools early, Ireland and Germany closing their nightclubs and hospitality curfew in The Netherlands. In England we are making sure businesses can remain open and people can still see their friends and family. There are no business closures and no restrictions on social gatherings. Work from home is in guidance – there is no mandatory stay at home order. The only legal restrictions are mandatory face masks in most indoor public places and requiring proof of a negative test or double vaccination to enter some venues (specifically nightclubs and mass events, but not pubs or restaurants).
The Government has already been encouraging voluntary use of the NHS COVID Pass and over 200 events and venues have already enacted it as a condition of entry including Premier League matches, Reading and Leeds Festivals and the BBC Proms.
The regulations ensure these measures won’t be in place longer than necessary. These regulations automatically expire after 6 weeks, (on 26 January, having come into force on 10 and 15 December). We will review the measures after 3 weeks and update the House as soon as it returns in the New Year. If we can end these measures earlier than 26 January, we will.
Why are these measures being brought in now? On Monday, Ministers were advised that there was widespread community transmission of Omicron in the UK. On Tuesday, SAGE met and confirmed cases were doubling every 2.5-3 days and recommended urgent action. With an epidemic showing rapid exponential growth, every day of delay means the problem gets much worse.
Current levels of hospitalisation reflect the response to the Delta epidemic, not the Omicron epidemic. While the evidence shows that while Delta is broadly under control, Omicron is growing rapidly- Omicron cases are doubling every 2.5-3 days. We’ve seen throughout the pandemic that there’s a lag between infections leading to hospital cases and deaths. For example, the first Covid infections in the UK are thought to have been in January 2020, but the first death wasn’t until March.
Does evidence suggest Omicron symptoms are “far milder”?
It would be very good news if Omicron is less severe, though there isn’t enough evidence to prove this. Public and private healthcare providers in South Africa are reporting different experiences. Hospitalisations in South Africa are now doubling every 5 days. It’s important to remember there is always a lag between infections and cases. Moreover, infections in South Africa have been skewed towards younger people, who are less likely to need hospital treatment. Previously in the pandemic, infections among young people have always spread to older people, before than leading to higher hospitalisations and deaths.
Even if Omicron is milder, the danger remains that if Omicron spreads so much more quickly – because it’s intrinsically more transmissible, or it escapes immunity, or a combination of the two – that so many people get sick at the same time and hospitals can’t cope with the flood of patients. For example, if hospitalisations follow infections and double every 3 days, even if Omicron is half as severe, the benefit of that reduction in severity is wiped out in just 3 days – and numbers will keep on doubling until the virus runs out of people to infect.
What evidence of efficacy is there of COVID-status certification?
Certification based on vaccination or test can reduce the number of unvaccinated or infectious people in venues, which limits the overall transmission risk. Vaccine or test certification will not eliminate the possibility of infectious individuals attending settings but will reduce the likelihood of someone transmitting the virus to large numbers of people attending.
SAGE documents published in April this year say certification, either via proof of negative test or vaccination, means a lower probability that an individual is infectious or that an individual will suffer severe symptoms if the virus is transmitted to them. And a Public Health England research report from the Events Research Programme concluded that during periods of high prevalence, measures that reduce the number of infectious people entering venues or promote attendance by fully vaccinated individuals will be important. SAGE papers published in October also confirm that Plan B contingency measures, including certification, could be sufficient to bring R down. (The R number is a way of rating coronavirus or any disease's ability to spread. R is the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.)
Is Plan B/ COVID-status certification the first step towards mandatory vaccinations?
No. We’re not introducing vaccine passports – unvaccinated people can get into events with proof of a negative lateral flow test. They can get these tests for free and take them at home. We are introducing compulsory vaccinations only for carers in social care and the NHS. Furthermore, the current regulations will automatically expire on 26 January and any new measures will be voted on.
The NHS COVID Pass lets you share your coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination records or test COVID-19 status in a secure way. It allows you to show others the details of your COVID-19 vaccine (or vaccines) when travelling abroad to some countries or territories.
You can show the vaccination records contained within your NHS COVID Pass as proof of your COVID-19 status when travelling abroad. There are already countries that require visitors to be double jabbed as a condition of quarantine free travel and that list seems likely to grow as more countries catch up to our successful vaccination programme.
Some countries are insisting that people coming into their country have evidence of a Covid-19 vaccination - just as countries have insisted in the past that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever or other diseases. If a foreign Government demands anyone travelling from the UK to their country to show a vaccine passport, then this can be arranged. As the Vaccine Minister has previously explained: "Of course you have the evidence that you have been vaccinated held by your GP and if other countries require you to show proof of that evidence then that is up to those countries".
Certification is already a feature of international travel, with some countries requiring proof of vaccination status as a condition of travel. Individuals can demonstrate their vaccination status through the NHS COVID Pass for a travel feature on the NHS app or through a letter.
Domestic use in England
From Monday 19 July 2021, the use of the NHS COVID Pass was voluntary for individual organisations and many businesses have found that the use of NHS COVID Pass has helped reassure customers of their safety at large events.
Following Parliamentary Scrutiny and a vote on 14th December 2021, the NHS COVID Pass will be mandatory for entry into nightclubs, and venues where large crowds gather including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
The NHS COVID Pass will allow people to safely and securely demonstrate their Covid-19 status through vaccination or a negative lateral flow test. Unvaccinated people can get lateral flow tests for free from gov.uk or pharmacies and take them at home. People who have had two vaccine doses won’t need to take a test. Boosters are not required and under-18s are exempt.