The Government has launched a consultation into whether Covid-19 and flu vaccinations should be made mandatory for frontline health and care workers.
The percentage of NHS trust staff who have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is around 92% nationally, with 88% of staff having received both doses. However, there is variation in uptake with new data showing that between NHS trusts, uptake rates can vary from around 78% to 94% for both doses.
The consultation will run for a period of six weeks, looking at whether requirements should apply for health and wider social care workers. It would mean only those who are fully vaccinated, unless medically exempt, could be deployed to deliver health and care services. The consultation will also seek views on whether flu vaccines should be a requirement for health and care workers.
There is a longstanding precedent for vaccination requirements in NHS roles. Workplace health and safety and occupational health policies are already in place requiring the Hepatitis B vaccine for those undertaking exposure-prone procedure – such as surgeons.
National flu vaccination rates in the health service have increased from 14% in 2002 to 76% last year. In some settings, however, rates are as low as 53%.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Many patients being treated in hospitals and other clinical settings are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19, and we must do what we can to protect them.
"It’s so clear to see the impact vaccines have against respiratory viruses which can be fatal to the vulnerable, and that’s why we’re exploring mandatory vaccines for both Covid-19 and flu. We will consider the responses to the consultation carefully but, whatever happens, I urge the small minority of NHS staff who have not yet been jabbed to consider getting vaccinated – for their own health as well as those around them."
All views must be taken into consideration in this consultation
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the notions of making vaccines compulsory for anyone, including healthcare workers, is very complex and raises many ethical, legal and practical questions.
Dr Penelope Toff, co-chair of the BMA public health medicine committee, said: "Vaccination programmes work best when people have a chance to get their questions answered and are able to make an informed decision. A thorough consultation is really important and the BMA will be responding to the Government’s proposals on behalf of the tens of thousands of doctors who are our members.
"While some healthcare workers have conditions in their employment contracts which require them to be immunised, for example against Hepatitis B, to work in certain environments, a proposal for compulsory vaccination of healthcare staff against Covid-19 and flu has far-reaching implications. It’s also important to understand that being vaccinated against COVID-19 doesn’t always prevent a person passing on the infection, so that when rates are high, other preventative measure, such as masks would also be needed. However, even if you have had the Covid-19 infection, vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself and others.
"We know that both Covid-19 and flu vaccine uptake among doctors remains high but that there are also small numbers of staff who are unable or unwilling to have the vaccines. There are a number of reasons for this and it’s important that all views are taken into consideration in this consultation."
The consultation will seek views on the proposals, its scope, and any potential impact it could have on staffing and safety such as reducing staff sickness absence. Findings will then help inform decision-making around how the change could be implemented and who could be exempt – if a decision is taken to introduce this requirement. Staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families are being urged to take part to have their views heard, with a final decision expected this winter.