The possibility of new Government policy introducing so–called “vaccine passports” requirements across the HE/student relationship has been reported through a variety of media sources this week, prompting strong views both for and against.
While it remains to be seen whether and how any such policy evolves, many institutions may already be considering requiring students to be vaccinated in specific contexts. One obvious example is institutions active in social care, given that those working in that field (including students and learners) must (with limited exceptions) be fully vaccinated by 11 November 2021. Health Education England has recommended this week that health and care students or learners who opt not to have the vaccination without medical reasons should “…talk to their university about the impact this will have on their progression through their programme”.
For some institutions, the Government’s announcement that later in the year full vaccination will be a condition of entry for nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather may also have a direct bearing on their (or their Student Union’s) wider commercial profile.
On its face, requiring evidence of vaccination raises a range of delicate legal considerations. Beyond contractual complexities, perhaps the most obvious relates to privacy concerns, given that an individual’s vaccination status would be “special category” personal data, which is afforded special protection under the General Data Protection Regulation / Data Protection Act 2018. Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner, is reported in the Telegraph to have commented on plans for domestic vaccine passports generally on the lines: “The questions we have to ask ourselves are: is it fair? Is it proportionate? And is it necessary?” which aligns with the general questions one needs to consider when dealing with any kind of personal data. The sharing of vaccine status with third parties (eg placement providers) will require particular attention, along with more basic considerations such as how long the information should be kept for, how it will be maintained accurately and who within an institution should have access to it.
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