Cheap cab rides and discounts from the biggest takeout companies must be rolled out by the government in a desperate effort to increase Covid vaccination rates among young people, amid growing legal and political pressure on Boris Johnson regarding the use of vaccine passports.
With figures in the cabinet concerned about plans already in place to enforce vaccine passports in some settings, the government has focused on using incentives to increase vaccination rates over the summer to to avoid another wave of Covid as offices, schools and universities reopen.
Car transport companies Uber and Bolt, as well as delivery service Deliveroo, are all involved in plans to offer discounts to consumers. The latest turnout figures suggest 60% of 18-25-year-olds have received at least one jab, but ministers fear demand from younger age groups will level off.
It comes as Johnson moved away from making full immunization a condition for allowing students to live and be taught on their college campuses, amid Conservative unrest.
the Observer has learned that the government received a blunt briefing last week from academic lawyers, outlining a series of legal hurdles to the plan that would leave them open to a plethora of cases, many of which could apply to other sectors if the passports were being considered in other areas.
Johnson has already made plans to make vaccine passports mandatory in some indoor venues such as nightclubs. However, companies warn they could face legal action if they followed “no jab, no job” policies.
Ministers have so far rejected calls to pay young people to be vaccinated, after US President Joe Biden called for payments of $ 100 to be offered to newly vaccinated people in the United States. However, ministers are now working with popular taxi and takeout companies to introduce incentives, although the companies do not request or hold health data.
As part of this program, Uber will offer discounted rides and meals on Uber Eats for young adults who get the jab. Bolt will provide free travel credit to vaccination centers. Other incentives being discussed could include vouchers or discount codes for people attending pop-up vaccination sites. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, called on young people to “go out and take advantage of the discounts” when they become available.
Incentives are desperately sought by ministers amid growing concern over attempts to force young people to get vaccinated. After universities were privately warned early last week that the use of vaccination certificates was an option under consideration by the government, a detailed memo was delivered to the government cabinet warning that the institutions risked disruption. ” infringe consumer law by effectively modifying the terms of the contract given to students. who had already received a place offer in September. Lawyers also warned that legislation should be changed to allow universities to force students to be vaccinated – a vote the government may struggle to win.
According to lawyers, confirming a student’s vaccination status has also opened universities to “legally questionable” use of data and created major challenges in securing this sensitive information. They also warned that there were grounds for complaints of age discrimination by having different rules for students and staff, as well as the need to treat certain vulnerable groups differently. Legal questions have also been raised regarding the treatment of international students, who may have been given vaccines outside the UK.
Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said that with voluntary vaccination programs in place it would be “deeply unfair if students were treated differently from any other part of the population”. He added: “We urge that the position be clear as soon as possible to allow us to fully prepare for the new term. “
Professor Nick Braisby, vice-chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University, said plans were already well under way for a return to face-to-face teaching if guidelines allowed.
“We implore the government not to treat university students differently from other citizens,” he said. “We have made offers to candidates in good faith, and these are legally binding. If the government were now to seek to make vaccination compulsory, it would be difficult to know what legal support it would receive.
“In addition, given the delay between the first and second dose, for students to be fully vaccinated before the start of the school year, it is already too late for someone who has not yet received the first dose.
Jo Grady, secretary general of the University and College Union, said another year of schooling should not be allowed to sink into another term of “chaos and confusion.” “We don’t want to see a repeat of a drop in student mental well-being or a surge in stress for staff, due to increased workload. The government must put things in place now. “
Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students, said that suggestions that ministers would wait near the start of their term to decide their policy were “laughable” and warned that the government had learned little from the chaos of the last year. She said: “The accommodation contracts will have been signed months ago, students will be furious if they have to pay again for rooms they are not able to occupy. Students deserve better.
The government said it “strongly encourages” students to get vaccinated and urged universities to “promote the vaccine offering” but said it “currently has no plans” to introduce drugs. vaccination passports for education.