Introducing coronavirus status certificates could create a “two-tier society” which discriminates against certain groups, the equalities watchdog has warned.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said vaccine passports could be a “proportionate” way of easing restrictions, following the “significant curtailment” of freedoms due to lockdown measures.
But in a submission to the Cabinet Office following a call for evidence, it raised concerns about “unlawful discrimination” against people from disadvantaged or ethnic minority backgrounds, by restricting access to jobs and services.
The warning came after the Department of Health and Social Care launched a consultation on making vaccination a condition of deployment for staff at older adult care homes in England.
“But there are concerns about potential for discrimination or for infringement of civil liberties in the use of certification status to travel, go to work, enjoy social activities and access essential services, and the creation of a two-tier society whereby only certain groups are able to fully enjoy their rights.
“These equality and human rights considerations must be considered in detail by Government, with clear steps taken to address any anticipated negative impacts.”
A Government review into coronavirus status certification for settings such as theatres and nightclubs is ongoing, while they might also be used in pubs and restaurants to reduce social distancing restrictions.
The documents would record – either on an NHS app or a paper certificate – whether someone has had a vaccine, a recent negative coronavirus test or natural immunity having recovered from the virus.
“Some of these groups have also been hit hardest by the pandemic,” it added.
“While the Government has stated that the vaccine is available to all, if Covid status certification requirements become widespread the Government risks further excluding these groups from access to essential services and employment.”
The commission added that blanket mandatory vaccination policies were likely to be “unlawful” and called for any policies to reflect the latest guidance on who can and cannot receive the jab.
They include people with severe allergies who are being advised not to have the vaccine, while pregnant women cannot be routinely offered it, according to the commission.
The Government has said care home staff in England could be required to get a coronavirus jab as a condition of deployment to protect elderly residents.
The five-week consultation will seek views on the proposal, such as potential impacts it could have on staffing and safety, how it could be implemented and who could be exempt.
Sir Keir Starmer said he would consider the outcome of the consultation, adding that he wanted as many people to receive the jab as possible.
The Labour leader said during a visit to Gower, South Wales: “I think everybody wants care home staff to be vaccinated. There’s a unanimous position on that. The question is whether that should be mandatory.
“Obviously we’ll look at what the Government puts out in any consultation.
“But the most important thing is to roll out the vaccination programme fully, and make sure just as many people are vaccinated as possible.”
A Government spokesman said: “Covid-status certification could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure.
“We are fully considering equality and ethical concerns as part of our ongoing review.”