Unjabbed students face ban as Boris Johnson targets vaccine refuseniks

Students vaccination

University students will have to be fully vaccinated to attend lectures or stay in halls of residence under plans being pushed by Boris Johnson.

The prime minister is said to have been “raging” about the relatively low vaccine uptake among young people and is determined to apply pressure.

During video meetings with colleagues while in isolation at Chequers last week, he suggested that students in higher and further education settings should face compulsory vaccination, subject to certain medical exemptions.

However, it is understood that the Department for Education has reservations about the legality and practicability of the plans given that universities are independent and offers to study are legally binding.

The move is likely to prompt criticism from some Tory MPs resolutely opposed to vaccine passports and who already believe they have the numbers to defeat the government.

Robert Halfon, Tory chairman of the education select committee, said: “This is wrongheaded. It’s like something out of Huxley’s Brave New World where people with vaccine passports will be engineered into social hierarchies — ie those who will be given a higher education and those who do not.

“Where does this stop? Do we fire apprentices who have not had the vaccine? Do we remove older students from FE colleges? Do we close down adult education courses where adults have not had the vaccine? I hope not.”

A government source said discussions about compulsory vaccinations for students were at an early stage and no decisions had been made.

The move comes amid mounting concern that fewer than 60 per cent of 18 to 25s have had a first vaccination.

The government is in discussion with the Premier League about barring fans from attending matches from October unless they have had both.

The mandatory requirement is expected to extend to the autumn rugby internationals, major concerts and spectator events with more than 20,000 people.

Professor Adam Finn, deputy head of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, warned that the measures could go too far. He said “nudging” people to get jabs needed to be done “really quite carefully” so they did not feel they were being compelled.

He told LBC on Sunday: “If people begin to feel they are being kind of forced against their will to do something, then in a sense that’s quite a damaging thing because it gives people the impression vaccination is something being imposed on them from outside.

“Nudging can be done but it has to be done in a way that people don’t feel that people are being pushed into something they don’t want to do.”

He said that young people were still getting seriously ill from coronavirus. “We have had people under 30 on our intensive care unit and also requiring high-level oxygen therapy. This is not always trivial in young adults. There are younger people really getting seriously ill, so that’s one good reason to think about having the vaccine. But these vaccines, it’s clear, do reduce the risk of not only getting the infection but passing it on to other people. Getting immunised is going to reduce the risk of spreading this infection among young people and enable them to get back to normal.”

Large venues are being encouraged to adopt Covid status certification, requiring proof of double vaccination, a recent negative test or evidence of antibodies after recovery from coronavirus.

There are concerns in government, however, that test results are too easy to fake, prompting the new focus on double vaccination.

The Premier League is keen for fans to be double-jabbed where possible and is likely to have certification for some clubs from the start of the season on August 13. The clubs involved are likely to plan for the scheme using pre-season friendlies and would be selected based on where it is easiest logistically, and the system would then be refined before being used across the league.

The Euro 2020 finals showed that infections spread where large crowds gather and especially where fans use public transport.

Some clubs have discussed introducing their own passport schemes for the new season, but Premier League chiefs are understood to have decided it would be better if all 20 clubs had the same policy. Ministers plan to make proof of double jabs compulsory for nightclubs and other “crowded venues” — though not pubs — from the end of September. The rules for sports events are expected to come in during October.