COVID-19 vaccines to become mandatory for England’s healthcare workers – ABC News

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Health workers in England will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by April 1 next year.

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.

A vaccination centre sign is visible behind a wall covered in hearts
UK Health Minister Sajid Javid says preventable harm to NHS staff and patients must be avoided.(AP: Frank Augstein)

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.

A man in a suit in front of UK flag looks at the camera and gestures with hand
The UK government already requires nursing home staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. (Pool via Reuters: Toby Melville)

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.

A healthcare worker wearing full PPE takes off a face shield while in the background other workers tend to a patient
The British government has left the door open for flu vaccines becoming mandatory.(AP: Neil Hall via Pool)

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.

ABC/wires

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