Shapps admits Oxford jab and vaccine status ‘complexities’ over US-UK travel

Grant Shapps has cast doubt on a quick resolution to allow transatlantic travel given “complexities” linked to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and US vaccine status checks.

The Transport Secretary told MPs that talks between the United Kingdom and United States have begun and “progress is being made” to reopen travel between the countries.

But he cautioned that there are a “whole series of complexities to resolve” before an agreement can be reached.

Mr Shapps told the Commons: “For example, the US does not recognise AstraZeneca, currently because AstraZeneca hasn’t applied for the licence.

“On the other side we don’t have any particular system to recognise vaccine status from the United States because they don’t have a digitised system as we do with our NHS – they have 50 separate systems.

“There are complexities.”

The Oxford jab has been widely administered in the UK along with vaccines from Pfizer and others.

Virgin Atlantic has previously warned the restriction of transatlantic links with the US is costing the UK economy £23 million each day.

Mr Shapps also said it will “require time” to work through the “complicated” policy of allowing double-jabbed travellers arriving in the UK to avoid quarantine.

Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK.
(PA Graphics)

The Cabinet minister said the Government plans “in future” to introduce the change for fully vaccinated people returning from amber list countries, such as Spain and France.

Replying to an urgent question from Labour, Mr Shapps told the Commons: “This is a complicated policy that requires time to work through.

“First, the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations has yet to opine on whether children should be part of the vaccination programme – they’re not at present and we must resolve how children would therefore be treated under a programme which enables people to travel.

“Next there’s the question of what to do for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or perhaps because they’re on one of the vaccine trials.

“That accounts for about half a million people and we need to work out what to do there.

“There’s also the question of how to recognise vaccine status at ports and airports – easier for people who have been vaccinated in the UK, the main NHS app can already display your vaccine status, but less easy to prove from someone coming from overseas, particularly if they have paper-based systems.

“As a result of all of this we will announce to the House when we’re ready to make these decisions in order to bring this system into place, phased most likely for UK residents first.”

Cumulative UK Covid-19 vaccinations
(PA Graphics)

For Labour, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “We have been pushing for the Government to show international leadership but so far they have failed to step up.

“So can I ask him why the Government won’t bring forward concrete plans for an international vaccine passport which will be accepted by key destination countries?”

Mr Shapps replied: “He calls for a passport which could be used for people who are doubled vaccinated and yet at the same time his policy is actually to put every single country in the red list.”

Labour has previously called for a green and red list, and the removal of the amber list.

At the start of the urgent question, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle issued a fresh telling off to the Government for failing to make announcements on changes to travel policy in the House of Commons before the media.

Sir Lindsay said: “If ministers choose to make important announcements outside this chamber first they must not be surprised that I will grant urgent questions on those matters.”

He added: “I will continue to make sure this House gets an opportunity to scrutinise the Government but it’d be better for all concerned if the Government simply followed its own ministerial code and made important announcements to this House where members are elected to represent their constituents.”

Mr Shapps said details of changes to the traffic travel light list can “escape” through the devolved administrations first once decisions have been taken, adding: “I do apologise to the House for not always being able to get here first.”