They are backing a plainly illiberal policy that will deepen racial division
The Observer reported yesterday that the British government was consulting local authorities over plans to bring in vaccine passports, even though government ministers have repeatedly rejected claims to move to Plan B “for now”. What passes for the Left-leaning media has been among the most in favour of vaccine mandates, with articles often pointedly comparing the UK’s failure to adopt a tougher European “green pass” mode of mandates and Covid management. In the US, meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has argued that “Covid-19 vaccination mandates can be consistent with civil liberties principles”.
The paradox here is obvious: the self-styled ‘Left’ is advocating a scheme that actively undermines its own goal of racial equality in society. Hence why last month, the leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in New York, Chivona Newsome, slammed vaccine mandates as racist. In many parts of the US, vaccine uptake has stalled among members of minority communities; in New York, 70% of Black Americans aged 18-44 have not had the Covid vaccine, while in Los Angeles county (where there are very strict mandates) only 54% of the black population and 62% of the “Latinx” population have had at least one dose of the Covid vaccine. If vaccine passports were to be introduced, then it’s not, as Newsome said, “gonna be white men in suits on Wall Street who are gonna get stopped”.
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The support of many on the Left for vaccine mandates in the UK and US is thus incomprehensible. Wherever discrimination based on physical attributes has been empowered by law in Western history, it has been accompanied by racialisation and discrimination. It is unclear why liberals think that vaccine passports will be any different.
The delivery of the Covid-19 jabs themselves has also led to an increase in systemic global discrimination. The hoarding of vaccines, and the lack of a well-organised global rollout, has meant that billions of people worldwide in poorer countries are effectively barred from travel. Even where they have been vaccinated with globally recognised jabs, the UK has stated that no one who has received such a jab in many poor countries will be exempt from quarantine.
Adding vaccine passports to the mix is only going to intensify this discrimination both nationally and globally. This is hardly a shocking discovery, but what is surprising is the support people on the liberal Left have given to them. The existence of systemic discrimination is hardly news, but what is surprising is the support people on the liberal Left have given to policies which will exacerbate this. Given the consequences, and as there is nothing inevitable about the introduction of vaccine passports, we must do everything in our power to prevent it.
Toby Green is a Professor of African History at King’s College, London; and the author of The Covid Consensus: The New Politics of Global Inequality (Hurst).