There has been much debate about their ethical rights and wrongs as we saw with the Tory backbench rebellion against Boris Johnson. But this overlooks the most important fact about vaccine passports: they are largely pointless, as Italy, where I live, proves.
Italy has one the most draconian vaccine passport regimes in Europe. “Il Green Pass”, as it is called, was introduced in early August. Initially, the unvaccinated were banned from enclosed public spaces such as restaurants and cinemas unless they’d had Covid in the past six months, or took a Covid test once every 48 hours.
The cost of the test, which involves queuing at high street chemists, is set by the government at 15 euros for adults: the equivalent of three packs of 20 cigarettes at Italian prices, and 8 euros for teenagers.
The ban on the unvaccinated eating out and other activities was soon extended to nearly all enclosed public spaces, except shops and churches, and to many forms of public transport such as ships, planes and long-distance trains.
And, then, from mid-October, the unvaccinated were even banned from work, unless they’d had Covid or were willing to pay for that test every two days.
Last week, “Il Super Green Pass” came into force, supposedly to “Save Christmas”. It extends the ban on the unvaccinated to all forms of public transport including, for the first time, local buses and trains, and the tube. It also deprives the unvaccinated of the right to take a Covid test in order to access many enclosed public spaces such as restaurants, discotheques and football stadiums.
The Italians are perfectly at ease, it seems, not only with compulsory identity cards — which have been around since the days of Mussolini’s dictatorship — but also with unelected prime ministers such as the current one, Mario Draghi, the ex-boss of the European Central Bank, who is not even an elected member of the Italian parliament.
So, perhaps it is not surprising that an overwhelming majority of Italians support “Il Green Pass”. Around 70 per cent are in favour of the tougher new “Super Green Pass”, and a similar number think vaccination should be compulsory.
It already has been for health workers since April, care home workers since September, and as of yesterday teachers, police officers, firemen and members of the armed forces. Meanwhile, demonstrations against the pass, though frequent and noisy, are paltry affairs. Despite wildly inflated claims on social media, they rarely rally more than 5,000 protesters.
You would assume, therefore, given its draconian nature and the overwhelming public support for it, that Italy’s vaccine passport regime had been a great success. Well, no, not exactly. “Il Green Pass” has now existed for more than four months and yet 6.2 million Italians over the age of 12 remain unvaccinated. That is surprisingly close to the number in Britain who remain unvaccinated.
If the justification for vaccine passports was to cajole unjabbed Italians into getting jabbed then they have surely been a failure. And if Britain shows that most people get jabbed of their own free will, Italy shows that, at best, vaccine passports only force the hesitant, not the die-hard, to get jabbed.
Italy’s infection rate — incredibly low in the summer — has been shooting up in the past month – from 2,815 new daily cases on 2 November to 23,195 new daily cases on 15 December.
I think we can safely conclude that vaccine passports offer little but a creeping tyranny over people’s lives. They do not persuade that many unvaccinated people to get jabbed, and there is little evidence to suggest that they lead to fewer infections. Italy has so often offered important insights to the world. The tragedy on this occasion is that so few are taking note.