UK Govt Moving Towards Mandatory Vaccination for NHS Staff

A member of clinical staff adjusts her mask as she wears Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) working in the Covid Recovery Ward at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge on May 5, 2020. - NHS services have come under increased strain with the number of a patients hospitalised and requiring critical care …
NEIL HALL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi has left open the possibility of mandatory vaccination for NHS staff after enforcing the measures on care home employees.

Mr Zahawi made the remarks during his round of Sunday media interviews, during which he also doubled down on domestic vaccine passports for nightclubs and other large venues from late September.

The vaccine minister, who had assured a peer in the House of Lords on January 12th that in unequivocal terms there would be no introduction of domestic vaccine passports, had told Sky News yesterday that it is “only right and responsible that we look at the duty of care for healthcare workers on the frontline and across the NHS”, with reports a consultation on making vaccination a condition of employment in the National Health Service could be opened as soon as this week, per sources speaking to The Telegraph.

Asked about a potential ‘jabs for jobs’ scenario at Britain’s largest employer, Mr Zahawi said in comments reported by MailOnline that a consultation held on the condition for deployment in social care settings returned “very clear feedback that we need to look at the greater healthcare workforce, including the NHS frontline workforce who I have to say, and it is worth just putting on the record, they have come forward in huge numbers to get themselves protected and vaccinated”.

Despite conceding that over 94 per cent of frontline healthcare workers have already volunteered to be vaccinated, the minister said: “I think it is only right and responsible that we look at the duty of care for healthcare workers on the frontline and across the NHS who are looking after people who are, when they are entering hospital, vulnerable to infection and we consult and we will come back and of course publish that consultation in due course.”

“I think the right thing to do is to consult and then publish that,” he added.

In July, lawmakers approved of enforcing vaccination on all care homes staff, with privacy and civil liberties campaigner Silkie Carlo of Big Brother Watch warning it could set a precedent for other employers to make similar demands of their workers. All care sector employees are expected to have had at least their first dose by September 16th, with full vaccination expected by November 11th, unless they are exempt.

An industry news website and other media outlets reported last month the warnings that the policy could result in a staffing crisis, with predictions as many as 40,000 of the half-million employees in the sector could refuse the vaccine. The Guardian reported on Saturday that care workers in England are already leaving the profession for other better-paid jobs, and even to become Amazon warehouse pickers. An estimated 87,000 care home staff in the country are not fully vaccinated.

Likewise, enforced vaccination for NHS staff could also exasperate staffing shortages and result in large numbers of staff quitting, according to The Telegraph.

The UK’s leading health group, the NHS Confederation, called the possibility of mandatory vaccination “not necessary” as so many staff are already vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi was forced to walk back remarks that appeared to imply that children aged 12 to 15 wanting to be vaccinated could do so against their parents’ wishes if they were judged “competent”.

The UK’s vaccine advisors have authorised the use of vaccines for children aged 16 and over without parental consent. But the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) has not recommended vaccination for the next younger age group, 12 to 15. Despite the JCVI’s position, the government is still considering it and, according to reports, could begin vaccination of young teens in the coming weeks.

Speaking to Times Radio on Sunday, Zahawi had said: “The NHS is really well practised in this because they’ve been doing school immunisation programmes for a very long time so what you essentially do is make sure that the clinicians discuss this with the parents, with the teenager, and if they are then deemed to be able to make a decision that is competent then that decision will go in the favour of what the teenager decides to do.”

Later, the minister was asked on Sky News to assure parents that if a decision is made on vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds that it will require parental consent.

“I can give that assurance, absolutely,” Zahawi said.

Whether Zahawi’s word can be counted on remains to be seen, but the government u-turn on past remarks on vaccine passports could perhaps suggest not.

On January 12th, Zahawi had responded to reports that there could be domestic vaccine certification, saying: “We have no plans to introduce vaccine passports. We have vaccinated, as of yesterday, 2,431,648 first dose and 412,167 second dose. No one has been given or will be required to have a vaccine passport.”

Hous of Lords peer Claire Fox, Baroness Fox of Buckley, quote-tweeted the remarks, asking: “Good to hear. Again. Can we hold you to this?”

To which, Zahawi replied: “Yes you can Claire.”

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