Frontline health workers in England may no longer be required to get vaccinated, the UK health secretary said on Monday. He recommended a review of a mandate that employers and unions say would lead to crippling staff shortages.
“Week after week we are carefully shifting our Covid response from rule and restrictions to personal accountability,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told parliament on Monday. “We are able to do this because of the defenses we have built throughout this pandemic in vaccines and antivirals, in testing and surveillance.”
The mandate originally stated that National Health Service workers in England had to be fully vaccinated by April 1, meaning they should have received their first dose of a two-dose vaccine no later than Thursday for be eligible for their second dose. before the deadline.
Javid noted that the Omicron variant that is now dominant tends to cause serious illness less often than Delta, which was the dominant version when the mandate was announced in November. He said the mandate was the right policy during the Delta Wave, but Omicron might call for a different approach.
“Given that Delta has been replaced, it is fitting that our policy on vaccination as a condition of deployment be reviewed,” he said. “While vaccination remains our best line of defense against Covid-19, I believe it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as a condition of deployment by law,” he added.
Nineteen of the service’s 20 staff have “done their professional duty” and been vaccinated, Mr Javid told Parliament. He had reported last week that around 77,000 NHS workers were still unvaccinated against the virus.
Employers and union leaders have long warned that the April 1 deadline would cause health workers who were hesitant to get vaccinated to quit their jobs, exacerbating severe staffing shortages.
A report released by the House Health Committee earlier this month detailed a range of issues plaguing the healthcare system, including waiting lists, workloads and vacancies. The report called on the government to immediately devote more resources to recruiting and training health workers to fill the gaps.
The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives urged the government earlier this month to delay the vaccination deadline for frontline workers, saying the health care effects of the lockdown spread of unvaccinated workers could be “catastrophic”.
“Sacking valuable nursing staff during this crisis would be an act of self-sabotage,” Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the RCN, said in a statement. “We call on the government to recognize this risk and delay a decision which, by its own calculations, looks set to backfire.”
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Their fears are not unfounded. The effects of the vaccination obligation are already being felt in the social assistance sector, where workers have had to be vaccinated since November. Healthcare providers say the rule has worsened staffing shortages the sector has already faced throughout the pandemic.
As daily reports of new coronavirus cases dwindled, England deviated from its “war footing” and began to treat the virus as endemic. Most of the remaining pandemic restrictions were lifted last week. From February 11, fully vaccinated travelers will no longer be required to take coronavirus tests before entering the country.
“Covid-19 is here to stay,” Mr Javid said on Monday. “While some countries remain stuck on a zero Covid strategy and others ponder how they will open up safely, here we are showing the way forward and showing the world what a successful life with Covid looks like. “
Maggie Astor contributed report.