Labour has called for the government to establish vaccination centres on university campuses after what it described as two days of “chaotic briefings” on student vaccine passports.
Labour said the government should “get a grip” of planning for the return of students, including those from overseas, to HE campuses in England.
A debate broke out about vaccine passports for university and further education students – people both in the least vaccinated age group, and among those identified as most at risk of infection because of their close-quarter living arrangements – when the Sunday Times reported on Sunday 26 July that ministers were considering the measure.
The statement comes after the newspaper reported the prime minister was considering making vaccinations mandatory for university and further education students. At present, unvaccinated international students can access a vaccination once moved to the UK after registering with a local general practice.
Two interviews given by junior health minister Vicky Ford appeared to confuse the media on Monday 28 July. She ruled out the idea of vaccine passports in an interview with Sky News – before appearing to backtrack on BBC Radio 4 when she suggested ministers would “look at every practicality” to avoid the closure of education settings. Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt reported that evening: “On limiting access to university, the prime minister is much less serious about that”.
Supporting all students to get double jabbed ahead of winter will help reduce disruption on campus and limit the spread of the virus, helping to protect the NHS as we head towards winter – Kate Green MP
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “It is essential that all eligible adults get their vaccine. Instead of criticising young people, the Conservatives must get a grip and help them to get their jabs, including by setting up vaccine centres on university campuses.
“The chaos, delay and incompetence at the heart of Boris Johnson’s government is costing lives and has cost thousands of students their university experiences.
“Supporting all students to get double jabbed ahead of winter will help reduce disruption on campus and limit the spread of the virus, helping to protect the NHS as we head towards winter.”
High infection rates currently evident among young people could delay vaccination rollout, the opposition warned. People infected between doses are required to wait a further 28 days before getting a second jab.
A recent YouGov survey of over 4,000 adults in Britain found that 62% believe all students should be required to take two doses of a Covid-19 vaccination before starting in-person teaching – just 23% opposed this measure. Support for this was position was highest among the over 65s (81% versus 11%) and lowest among 18–24-year-olds (40% versus 34%).
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “Universities are already encouraging students to get vaccinated and not delay, and will continue working with government and local public health teams to promote uptake over the summer through targeted communications, and by setting up temporary ‘pop-up’ clinics at convenient locations.”
The government is working with Ucas to engage with new UK-domiciled HE entrants – and universities are to explain how international students can access vaccines on arrival. At present, unvaccinated international students can access a vaccination once moved to the UK after registering with a local general practice.