As we face a rising tide of Omicron cases, a lot has been done of the importance of protecting the NHS and taking steps to reduce the spread of the disease.
This is until there are enough NHS staff to handle people who need treatment in hospital.
So why, then, so many NHS healthcare workers are not immune?
On December 12 the Prime Minister launched a ‘national urgent appeal’ calling on Britons to ‘strengthen now… to protect ourselves and the NHS’ from the next ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron Covid.
But many of those millions of people who have responded to his call will be shocked to learn that several professional bodies representing NHS medical staff are against introducing mandatory vaccinations for those working face-to-face with patients in hospitals.
As we face a rising tide of Omicron cases, a lot has been done of the importance of protecting the NHS and taking steps to reduce the spread of the disease. This is until there are enough NHS staff to handle people who need treatment in hospital. So why, then, so many NHS healthcare workers are not immune?
The Department of Health estimates that more than 200,000 NHS workers remain unvaccinated (with 103,000 unvaccinated trust workers and 105,000 home care workers, according to figures submitted to the House of Lords secondary legislative audit committee on 25 November). It is not known how many of the agency’s employees are unvaccinated.
What’s more, when they encounter a jab or lose their jobs, only 54,000 (26 percent) agree to the vaccination, while 126,000 (61 percent) leave their jobs. (There are more than 1.4 million people working for NHS trusts.)
Not surprisingly, perhaps, with professional bodies including the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association opposing compulsory vaccination of their members.
On 9 November, after a six-week consultation, Health Minister Sajid Javid announced that all frontline NHS staff would have to be fully vaccinated or face the prospect of being fired. To give all employees enough time to fully vaccinate, the deadline is April 2022.
When faced with an injection or losing their jobs, only 54,000 (26 percent) agree to the vaccination, while 126,000 (61 percent) leave their jobs. (There are more than 1.4 million people working for NHS trusts.)
Nearly half of the responses to counseling were from health and care professionals who work with patients. More than a third (36 percent) of those opposed to the introduction of mandatory vaccination, but some strong opposition came from professional bodies.
The Royal College of Physicians said it was “deeply concerned” that if vaccines are forced it could have a far-reaching negative impact on the NHS workforce.
The Academy of the Royal Colleges of Medical Sciences said it believed that “all health and care workers should choose to be vaccinated”, but added that “our view is that making any vaccine mandatory is not logical or necessary”.
The stated position of the Royal College of Nursing is that “all members of the nursing staff should have access to any vaccine deemed necessary to help protect themselves, patients, colleagues, family members and the wider community”.
But she adds: “The RCN has significant concerns that imposing vaccinations will further marginalize those who are currently reluctant to get vaccinated and put more pressure on a heavily depleted workforce by forcing people to leave work.”
The risk of any patient contracting COVID-19 in hospital from an unvaccinated staff member is unknown. But research by the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals found that two of the 22 patients who were infected in Addenbrooke between March and June 2020 picked it up from staff.
The Academy of the Royal Colleges of Medical Sciences said it believed that “all health and care workers should choose to be vaccinated”, but added that “our view is that making any vaccine mandatory is not logical or necessary”. A worker in New Hampshire was seen being vaccinated
“The number one rule in medicine is to do no harm,” says Chris Ellingworth, study leader and senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s Center for Virus Research at MRC.
“People need to be able to make sure that the medical staff treating them has done everything they can to keep them safe.”
The reasons for health care staff refusing vaccination are varied and complex. A large study published in The Lancet Regional Health in Europe in July looked at vaccine frequency. Based on six studies of nearly 12,000 employees, it found that nearly a quarter of them were reluctant to receive the vaccine, but those rates varied between ethnic groups.
The most frequent were those who identified as Caribbean black (54.2 percent), followed by mixed white and black Caribbean (38.1 percent) and white Britons (21.3 percent).
Among the total 63.1 percent concerned about safety or potential side effects, Asian respondents expressed the greatest concern (71.4 percent), followed by mixed (69.2 percent), blacks (68.9 percent) and whites (59.3 percent).
There was also concern about whether the vaccines had been thoroughly tested in all racial groups: 46.7 percent of blacks surveyed were concerned about it, and 34.6 percent of Asians.
Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing, told Good Health: “Improving confidence in vaccines is complex and there are differences across different cultural groups, different religious groups, and between different vaccines.”
Daniel Sokol, a leading medical ethicist and lawyer who has served as an ethics advisor to several government bodies, believes that organizations such as the Royal College of Nursing have no business arguing against mandatory vaccination.
“They risk damaging public confidence and trust in the medical profession,” he told Good Health.
Very few reasonable patients want treatment by unvaccinated staff. I can’t imagine that many reasonable doctors would want to work so closely with them either.
He added that from an ethical perspective, there is no doubt that “healthcare staff working with patients should be vaccinated.”