It would be premature to implement vaccine passports for access to education and training, the Association of Colleges has said.
In The Times today, prime minister Boris Johnson suggested students in further and higher education settings should face compulsory vaccination, subject to certain medical exemptions.
But chief executive of the Association of Colleges David Hughes warned against the plans.
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Mr Hughes said: “I am happy to encourage everybody who can get a vaccine to do so, because we have seen that it will reduce the risks of transmission and the risks of serious illness. Encouraging everyone to vaccinate is the right thing to do, for individuals and for communities.
"It becomes trickier though when not being vaccinated might be used to limit access to education and training, particularly when the government is still to decide whether this approach will be used in any other walks of life. There are also simple practicalities for students, with under 18s generally unable to access a jab and anyway with the eight-week gap between doses, any student aged 18 or above getting their first dose now would not be able to start college at the beginning of the next academic year because they would not be eligible for their second vaccine until after term has started.
"Colleges are doing everything they can to keep students and staff safe and that will remain a priority for the autumn term. Vaccine passports might well become part of everyday life, but at the moment it would be premature to suggest implementing that approach for education and training.”
Under current rules, those over 18, and teenagers within three months of their 18th birthday will be offered the jab.
Last week, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that young people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious Covid-19 should have already been offered vaccinations.
However, the JCVI is not currently advising routine vaccination of children outside of these groups, based on the current evidence.
University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said: "Lurching from complacency to compulsion is typical of a government that has flip-flopped its way through this pandemic. Students should be prioritised for vaccinations, to ensure as many as possible have the opportunity to be vaccinated by September, but making vaccinations compulsory as a condition to access their education is wrong and would be hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated, and international students.
"Sadly, this looks and smells like a prime minister trying to pin the blame on students for not yet taking up a vaccine they haven’t been prioritised to receive. Instead of chasing headlines as ministers go off on holiday, it would be much more useful if the prime minister worked with universities and NHS providers to enable and sensitively encourage student vaccination without resorting to compulsion, and finally make a clear case for the scrapping of vaccine patents globally – which are restricting the ability to vaccinate the world, entrenching global inequalities and exposing us all to more vaccine-resistant strains."
A government spokesperson said: “Vaccinations are important in helping to keep higher education settings safe for when students return in the autumn term and We strongly encourage all students to take up the offer of both vaccine doses.
“Universities and FE colleges are encouraged to promote the offer of both doses of the vaccine and should continue to conduct risk assessments for their particular circumstances, as well as implementing sensible and proportionate control measures.
“If we consider that further measures are needed for these settings, we will set these out in the usual way.”