Weekly Poll – Vaccine Certification Scheme
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 8 November 2021, we asked a question about the Vaccine Certification Scheme.
Question 1. Have you used the vaccine certification or exemption letter to enter events and higher risk venues in Scotland?
- YES – 72% (154 respondents)
- NO – 28% (61 respondents)
Question 2. Do you have any concerns about the Vaccine Certification Scheme?
- YES – 18% (39 respondents)
- NO – 82% (178 respondents)
On 1 October 2021, COVID vaccine certificates were introduced in Scotland, with the scheme becoming law on 18 October, meaning people must show proof of their vaccination status to enter some events and higher risk venues. People in Scotland can prove their vaccine status by downloading the NHS Scotland Covid Status App from their mobile device. A paper certificate or the downloadable PDF is also available from the NHS Inform website or by phoning the COVID Status Helpline on 0808 196 8565. We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
NHS Scotland COVID Status app
Respondents reflected on their experiences of downloading the app on a mobile device. Some people had encountered no difficulties with downloading and registering their details on the app.
“It was easy to download the app.”
“Everything was pretty straightforward.”
“After the initial launch problems, I found it simple to download and register.”
“It was nice and simple to register with the app and I have used it with no problems.”
In contrast, some people questioned the steps involved to register for the app. This requires an email address and form of photo identification such as a passport or United Kingdom driving licence, which some respondents could not provide. In addition, the app is potentially inaccessible for people with visual impairments, as there are no audio prompts to indicate when each section in the sign-up process has been completed.
“Blind people cannot independently sign-up\activate COVID Status app as the first hurdle is to take a picture of either a driving licence or passport and then a selfie of yourself using a smartphone. This in itself is discrimination as having to use a third party\sighted assistance means the app is not fully accessible.”
“The NHS Scotland Covid Status App is awful. I have tried to register on the app about 12 times and each time the verification has failed. I have used 2 different smartphones, but the app doesn’t seem to be able to match the face image with either my passport, or my driving licence.”
“I have a friend who does not have a passport or driving licence and originally tried to use his birth certificate.”
“My husband tried to download one – now he can’t as the details the GP has ‘differ in some way from the information he supplied’ and it is his responsibility to work this out or he won’t be “allowed” to go to the Rugby!”
“If you do not drive or have a passport you cannot use the app.”
One person stated that they are unable to download and access the app because there is no mobile signal where they live, which is a factor that may impact people living in rural areas of Scotland.
“I have already had two vaccinations and a booster, but I cannot get the app because I live in an area where mobiles cannot be used due to there being no signal. It is an outrage that those who live in rural areas of Scotland are being denied digital certificates just because they don’t live in a big city.”
Respondents commented on the process for receiving a paper copy of their vaccination status. This is a vital alternative for people who are unable to access their status by using the app. Some people had encountered no difficulties with requesting a paper copy, which in certain cases had arrived quicker than the estimated delivery time.
“My daughter gave me the phone number. I gave my name and dates of vaccinations and had the certificate in a few days even though they said up to 14 days.”
“The certificate arrived much quicker than what the lady told me on the phone when I requested it.”
“I had to order a paper certificate as I couldn’t download for some reason. But no problem with this as I was just happy to get a certificate/proof of vaccines.”
One person suggested that paper copies of the certificate should have been automatically sent out to people who are unable to request by telephone or do not have internet access to download a copy from the NHS Inform website. Another respondent only found out about the paper certificate through the information featured in the poll question preamble. This highlights the need to increase awareness of how the general public can request a paper certificate.
“I tried getting the app and gave up. I can’t use the telephone so haven’t been able to sort out a paper copy. Given the amount of money spent on COVID, the cost of automatically sending out letters would be miniscule and sort out the problems a number of people have encountered (including me). Not everyone has access to smartphones and computers. Without this it can be difficult to know what to do.”
“I have only found out about being able to apply for a paper version through this poll question.”
Overall, 72% (154 respondents) had used the Vaccine Certification Scheme to enter a range of late-night venues and outdoor live events. A portion of respondents had encountered no problems with gaining access to venues and believed that the scheme was a necessary measure to ensure that people remain safe.
“I have used my proof of vaccination at a venue once and had no problems.”
“I found it really simple to download and register and have used it to get entry to football matches without any problems. It only takes a second to scan. The same amount of time as checking your season ticket, so no delays.”
“I feel safer going to places that are using this system as I know others have been vaccinated too. This is about public health and protecting others.”
“This is an effective system that’s easy to download and use. No brainer as one of the control measures.”
“I think the certificate is a great idea and will keep people safer.”
In comparison, some respondents believed there is a lack of enforcement of the scheme by venue staff, which had discouraged some people from attending any future events.
“I think it’s great, but I was at the Hydro the week it was released seeing JLS and not one person asked to view mine.”
“I know people who have used them. Some venues are far too strict, others don’t even look at them.”
“I think the passports are a really good idea and give people peace of mind to go to an event, but it needs to work with venues like the Hydro doing what they promise and actually check these. It’s put me off going out anywhere for now as it was so badly managed but hopefully Scottish Government can get this policed properly that venues will get fined if they don’t check these and refuse entry to people.”
“At one venue, a member of staff had a quick glance at my phone but didn’t bother to scan the QR code.”
“People have tried to get the certificate but have found their vaccinations have not always been registered. Some venue staff get a bit too full of themselves and the power they have to refuse you entry if they don’t recognise anything from your certificate.”
“Who ‘polices’ this? What is the training in place?”
Clinicians have identified a very small number of people who cannot be vaccinated, and they will receive a secure paper exemption certificate in the post. One person believed that mental health conditions should be added to the criteria for a medical exemption.
“I am concerned that people like myself and many others cannot receive an exemption letter due to mental health problems. I have many fears and phobias amongst anxiety and depression which are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. This should surely be accounted for within the exemption process rather than just physical attributes being considered. With such a focus on mental health in the media, it baffles me as to why this hasn’t been accounted for in the exemption process.”
A respondent who became ill after having their first vaccination, stated that there is not enough information being shared with the public to raise awareness of people who are medically exempt.
“I am not able to have the second jag as I was so ill after the last one. So, I am rather confused as to whether I can go into anywhere. There is very little information for people like me who cannot have the second one because of the severe illness that the jag gave me.”
Equality and Human Rights Considerations
There were general comments from people who questioned the impact of the scheme on human rights and civil liberties.
“Vaccine certification schemes when they are forced on selected, or every business(es) are a major infringement of our basic human rights and individual liberties. It ought to be left to private businesses to enforce it, not the government.”
“I am concerned with the government’s perceived abuse of power in introducing vaccine certificates as a means of passage into venues and for travel. In my opinion this is discriminatory. People have the right to choose whether to get the vaccine. They should not be discriminated against because of their choice.”
“What about those who cannot take the vaccination on faith or other life decisions. The vaccine passport makes people believe that they can do whatever they want without needing to be tested. The vaccine does not stop you passing it on.”
This is contrasted by a person at increased clinical risk who highlights the extent to which disabled people have been disproportionately excluded throughout the pandemic.
“As someone at increased clinical risk and no idea when I will be able to get back to any semblance of “normal” life, such a scheme gives me some reassurance that measures are still being taken to try to contain the virus to some extent. People going on about restriction of their personal freedoms are talking about how inhumane it is to not let people “participate” in society but then are happy to tell people like me to stay home for an indefinite period of time or “get over it” as the virus isn’t going anywhere.”
Extending the Scheme
The Scottish Government has indicated that it may extend the vaccine certification scheme to cover more indoor hospitality and leisure settings. Some respondents supported an extension of the scheme as they felt it would be a necessary measure if infection rates continue to rise over winter.
“The scheme should be extended wider to NHS facilities, public transport, more hospitality venues and retail. It’s a way of respecting and keeping each other safe.”
“It needs to be used in more settings including in the NHS.”
“With uncertainty over COVID cases this winter, I think we need to extend it so that this will help to avoid another lockdown.”
However, some respondents believed that there should be caution regarding the decision to extend the scheme.
“I’m concerned about the talk of increasing the places where it’s needed. I had the vaccine because it was the right thing to do – there seems to be an authoritarian streak at the moment which is about forcing people to take the vaccine rather than encouraging them. This isn’t consent.”
“The possibility of discrimination will increase if the range of activities for which a vaccination certificate is required is extended. It would, for instance, be particularly problematical to require one for health treatment or access to education. I would be very concerned at any plans to extend certificates from the current large events.”
Respondents commented on various elements of the Vaccine Certification Scheme. Some people found the app easy to download and register their details. However, there was uncertainty regarding the accessibility of the app for people with visual impairments. It is vital that the public are aware of how to request a paper alternative if they unable to access the app via a smartphone. There must also be increased awareness of medical exemptions for people who are unable to be vaccinated. One respondent suggested that the criteria for exemptions should be extended to include mental health. In practice, it was found that there was an inconsistency with venue enforcement of the scheme. This had discouraged some people from attending any future events. There were comments from individuals who questioned the impact of the scheme on human rights and civil liberties. In turn, a portion of respondents were wary of extending the scheme to cover more hospitality and leisure venues. This was contrasted by respondents who support the scheme and believe that extending it to more venues will act as a necessary mitigation to keep people safe.