There has been a lot of fanfare about the recent decision to abandon mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for National Health Service (NHS) staff in England. However, the pressure is still on.
The welcome U-turn was announced on 31 January, when Sajid Javid (the health secretary) said that whilst looking at the risks and opportunities of the vaccination as a condition of deployment policy, there were 2 new factors to consider. Firstly, the population as a whole is better protected against hospitalisation and secondly, Omicron is intrinsically less severe. He then concluded that while vaccination remains our very best line of defence, he no longer believes it is proportionate to require vaccination through statute.
All reasonably sensible stuff so far and this is what the majority of the media picked up on. However, he wasn’t finished yet. He continued with the following statement (emphasis my own):
Some basic facts remain: vaccines save lives, and everyone working in health and social care has a professional duty to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
So, while we will seek to end vaccination as a condition of deployment in health and social care settings using statute, I am taking the following steps:
First, I have written to professional regulators operating across health to ask them to urgently review current guidance to registrants on vaccinations, including COVID-19, to emphasise their professional responsibilities in this area.
Second, I have asked the NHS to review its policies on the hiring of new staff and the deployment of existing staff, taking into account their vaccination status.
And third, I’ve asked my officials to consult on updating my department’s code of practice, which applies to all CQC registered providers of all healthcare and social care in England.
They will consult on strengthening requirements in relation to COVID-19 including reflecting the latest advice on infection prevention control.
So it seems that, as suspected, the U-turn didn’t occur because it was the sensible path to follow but because of political motives. Too much pressure was building up in support of the unvaccinated health care workers. Furthermore, there would have been nowhere to hide politically, when 10 percent of the health care staff were sacked, causing massive chaos in an already overstretched service.
However, the pressure is still on for the staff who have chosen not to be vaccinated. Firstly, the regulations have not been revoked yet, they will be subject to a consultation and parliamentary approval. Secondly, similar to my article on the removal of human rights, there will be professional pressure applied to staff in the interests of the greater good. Thirdly, policies will be changed making it very difficult for unvaccinated workers. As one nurse put it:
No vaccine mandate but; you can’t change jobs, take a promotion, progress in your career, and you will forever be coerced into taking a jab and live with constant fear that one day you could be sacked for not taking it.
This is not over!
Yesterday, a Times article reported that Sajid Javid has told medical regulators to insist staff get jabs. It says the health secretary has said that “medical regulators must crack down on unvaccinated staff”. The article reports that “he has written to nine regulators, including the General Medical Council (GMC) and Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). Abandoning compulsory vaccines ‘in no way diminished the importance that health and care workers are vaccinated. Indeed, it is the responsibility of all health care professionals to take steps to ensure the safety of patients’. [Sajid is] ‘concerned that the guidance from the professional regulators on this issue is currently limited to a statement about vaccination in general’ rather than about Covid-19 in particular”. Javid told the regulators “that they should ‘urgently’ work with senior health leaders ‘to ensure yourself that your current guidance on vaccination for Covid, sends a clear message to registrants’.”
I don’t think there will be much opposition at management level in the NHS, when individuals such as Chris Hopson (CEO of NHS Providers) and Matthew Taylor (CEO of NHS Confederation) issued a joint statement saying “NHS leaders are frustrated to have such a significant change in policy at the 11th hour, given all the hard and complex work that has gone into meeting the deadline set by the government. They recognise the reasons . . . but there will be concern at what this means for wider messaging about the importance of vaccination for the population as a whole.”
Also yesterday, England’s Chief Medical Officer (Chris Whitty), together with the Chief Nursing Officer, Chief Midwifery Officer, Medical Directors and others wrote to NHS colleagues about their professional responsibility to get vaccinated.
In the letter they say “COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective because they have been over 10 billion doses given worldwide”. They also say that the vaccines “provide protection from becoming infected”. I don’t know how they can claim that when data from the UK Health Security Agency itself, shows infection rates to be higher in the majority of vaccinated age groups.
The main gist of the letter is to guilt health care workers into getting vaccinated. They use words such as “professional responsibility”, “the public reasonably expect” and “to protect our patients”. The letter ends by saying “the great majority of heathcare workers have already done so [been vaccinated]. We hope those of you who have not will consider doing so now.
The level of coercion to get vaccinated, particular with health care workers, is unacceptable and is not dying down. For a novel vaccine, with no medium to long term studies on side effects, the choice is down to the individual. The data suggests that the vaccinated are more likely to be infected, not less. So, even if the vaccine does protect someone on an individual basis, they are more likely to be infectious around patients, not less. Especially, if the vaccine masks any symptoms meaning a vaccinated individual is more likely to be infected and not realise they are.
Mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers has been abolished for now, but the pressure is still being placed on them. Will new workers have to be vaccinated, will vaccination be necessary for certain roles or to progress careers. Or will the constant shaming or being made to feel guilty be too much for the individuals who have chosen not to be vaccinated and will they have to leave anyway but this time, without any legal redress or compensation?