Monday 20th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Anum Qaisar Portrait Anum Qaisar-Javed (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship, Ms Ghani. I begin by commending all those across the four nations who have signed these two petitions: by signing, they have made their voice heard and are participating directly in democracy. E-petition 577842, entitled “Do not require health and social care workers to take covid-19 vaccination”, has been signed by 59 individuals in my constituency, and e-petition 575801, entitled “Outlaw discrimination against those who do not get a Covid-19 vaccination”, has been signed by 275 individuals in my constituency.

I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening the debate. I join him in thanking the NHS, including those across my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts who have been involved in the vaccine roll-out, not just those administering the jag but those in the background who are working equally hard. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) on her recent appointment as Vaccines Minister. There will no doubt be matters on which we disagree, but I extend a warm hand to her in that role.

Evidence clearly shows that the vaccination programme has gone well across the four nations of the UK. Scientists and many politicians from across the political spectrum are in agreement that a strong vaccination programme is the safest way out of the pandemic. Around the UK, on average, 80% of those eligible have been double vaccinated, and 90% have received their first vaccination. Recent statistics demonstrate that the vaccine has had a significant impact on driving down death rates: only 1.2% of deaths in England from covid between January and July were among those who were fully vaccinated. Now, the general plan to save lives and avoid disruption includes vaccination of those aged 12 to 15, alongside the plan for booster jags for people over 50 and NHS staff—because I am Scottish, I say “jag”, not “jab”, in case any Members were confused. However, there remain a million people over the age of 60 in the UK who are not double vaccinated. The number of vaccinated must be increased to minimise further deaths and hospitalisations from coronavirus.

The vaccines used in the UK have been extensively studied and have been proven safe for use. Over 2 billion people around the world have now been vaccinated against covid-19, and the evidence shows us that the benefits of vaccination significantly outweigh the potential risks. It is therefore time to encourage the remainder of the population, who have not yet been vaccinated, to get the jag.

We in the SNP have a position of not voting on issues that do not relate to Scotland. As such, the SNP did not participate in the vote on regulations relating to mandatory vaccinations for English care staff. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) spoke in the debate on behalf of our party. She spoke against mandatory vaccination in that debate and highlighted the impact of vaccine hesitancy. She also highlighted that Scotland has a higher rate of vaccination among care home staff, without the need for mandating vaccination.

Vaccine uptake is vital. The Scottish Government believe in encouraging uptake by informing people about the medical facts and explaining the advantages that vaccination offers them and their loved ones. Requiring the mandatory vaccination of care home workers will not support the vaccine rollout, but it could undermine it. That is why the SNP spoke out against the proposals and supports an informed vaccine roll-out.

The Scottish Government are aware of the ethical concerns around vaccine passports, but accept that they are likely to play a role in keeping the pandemic under control. Scotland’s vaccine passport will be required in nightclubs, live events—with more than 500 attendees unseated indoors or more than 4,000 unseated outdoors—and at any event with more than 10,000 people. The Welsh Government have announced a near-identical plan beginning mid-October. The UK Government have shelved their plans for vaccine passports—for now, but who knows what they will say tomorrow? The Northern Irish Executive have said that they have no plans to implement a similar scheme. The latest estimate for unvaccinated 18 to 29-year-olds in Scotland stands at 25.6%. It is hoped that such schemes will encourage youth uptake of the vaccine.

Proof of vaccination will be important in the post-pandemic world to facilitate travel and tourism, which is of course vital to our economy. It has been used by many countries for various vaccine-preventable diseases for decades. As someone from a Pakistani heritage, I remember being dragged to the doctors to get my vaccines in order to visit my grandparents. Growing up, I was very frightful of vaccines, but I persevered and went with it so I could visit them. This is not something new.

It is important to note that the proposals in Scotland and Wales both fall short of the requirements in place in European countries such as France or Italy, which require the EU green pass or equivalent for trains, cultural attractions, or any indoor hospitality settings. Italy is now even requiring proof of vaccination in the workplace.

Both Labour and the Tories opposed vaccine passports in Scotland, allegedly on the grounds of how it is being implemented, rather than as a principled position against the proposal. The Lib Dems in Scotland have opposed vaccine passports throughout the UK. It is important to say that the Scottish Government have no plans to introduce the requirements for public settings that people need to visit, such as shops or public transport. Individuals will continue to have the right to work, shop and meet people without vaccination.

I conclude by stating an important point, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington in his opening remarks: people have the right to refuse vaccination—yes—but they do not have the right to spread dangerous misinformation. Violence and intimidation are not acceptable. I highlight the case of Marianna Spring, who covers disinformation and social media for the BBC. At the weekend, she shared online a video in which it appears that an anti-vaxxer protestor is calling for her to be tried for war crimes. Marianna explains that she has received death threats and rape threats.

As elected Members, tackling misinformation is a responsibility for all of us. I welcome any advice that the Minister can provide to ensure that people have the full facts and are making an informed decision when deciding to take the jab.