Health workers in England will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by April 1 next year.
- About 100,000 health workers in England have not been vaccinated against COVID-19
- Staff who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons and those without face-to-face patient contact will be exempt
- The policy does not apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
UK Health Minister Sajid Javid announced the shots would become a mandatory condition of employment for those on the front line of the National Health Service (NHS) and social care service.
Mr Javid said he had to balance the benefit to patients and colleagues with concern that workers might decide to leave their jobs rather than get the shots.
He said workplace pressures were one reason the measure would not come in until the spring.
“All those working in the NHS and social care will have to be vaccinated,” Mr Javid told the British parliament.
The mandate will see England following Australia, France, Italy and some US states in ordering healthcare workers to get vaccinated.
Mr Javid said while vaccination was not compulsory for most people, health workers had a “unique responsibility” because they were in contact with those most vulnerable to illness.
The move follows a similar decision to make COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for care home workers, a rule which comes into force this week.
Exemptions will be available for people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, and for those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients.
Thousands of NHS healthcare workers yet to be immunised
Mr Javid said 90 per cent of NHS staff had already received two doses of a vaccine, leaving about 100,000 health workers who were yet to have their first jab.
“No-one in the NHS or care that is currently unvaccinated should be scapegoated, singled out or shamed,” he said.
The change applies only in England. It excludes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own rules.
Trade unions had opposed making vaccinations compulsory, saying it could drive some staff to leave the already-stretched health system.
Labour Party health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said there was a risk the policy, “however laudable in principle, could exacerbate some of these chronic understaffing problems”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking to navigate through what is expected to be a difficult winter for the health system without further economically damaging lockdowns.
Calls for natural immunity to be recognised
Dominic Wilkinson, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Oxford, said focusing on vaccinations was too simplistic, and more nuance was needed as part of the policy.
“Individuals with sufficient proof of natural immunity should be granted a medical exemption to the vaccine mandate being placed on care home workers and NHS staff,” he said.
Mr Javid said the consultation for health workers also considered the idea of making flu vaccines mandatory.
He said he would not introduce requirements for flu shots at this stage, but added the option remained open.