Remember when Boris Johnson reassured the public that ‘it is no part of our culture or our ambition in this country to make vaccines mandatory – that’s not how we do things’? At the time, it was also claimed that 60-70% of the public need to have the vaccine in order to control Covid-19. Fast-forward almost a year, and almost 80% of UK citizens over the age of 12 have received both vaccinations, and 90% of NHS workers are fully vaccinated – significantly above the 70% required for Covid-19 to be controlled. Why, then, has the government decided to introduce a vaccine mandate for health and social staff, when – as Johnson claimed – that is not the British way?
Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, has confirmed that it will be mandatory for health and social staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 from April 2022. He claimed that NHS staff and care workers have a ‘unique responsibility’ and that ‘the first duty of everyone working in health and social care is to avoid preventable harm to the people they care for’.
As the individuals who are face-to-face with some of the most vulnerable patients, perhaps it makes sense for social and health staff to be fully vaccinated and therefore less likely to pass Covid-19 onto immune-supressed patients. The Covid-19 vaccination is already compulsory for health workers in France, Greece, Italy and Hungary, and France saw vaccination uptake increase from 60% in July to 99% in October following the mandate.
This is not the first vaccine mandate that the UK has seen in recent times. Already, surgeons are required to have the Hepatitis B vaccine to protect patients, as not having the vaccine ‘would be a form of neglect’. Similarly, some argue that the healthcare workers ‘have an ethical obligation to be vaccinated’ and should adhere to the General Medical Council’s Duties of a Doctor.
This is also not the first Covid-19 vaccine mandate in the UK. Since November 11th, it is mandatory for staff working in care homes to be fully vaccinated. In his speech to the commons, Javid applauded the fact that since the mandate was announced, the number of care home workers who have not received their first jab has fallen from 88,000 to 32,000. Yet, that still leaves over 30,000 workers who have refused to receive the jab despite the mandate, and many fear that these individuals will be sacked from their job – a loss that care homes cannot afford.
It is well known that the NHS is under huge pressure due to its staff shortages, with over 90,000 vacanciesacross the country. The Royal College of Nursing has ‘significant concerns’ that the vaccine mandate will lead to even more staff shortages. Similarly, the unions which represent NHS and care staff worry that there will be ‘dire consequences’ following this mandate for the NHS and care homes, and that the ‘focus should be on persuasion not coercion’. Considering that a huge majority of the health and social sector are already fully vaccinated, it seems illogical to enforce a vaccine mandate which will likely lead to backlash and further staff shortages. The best approach to protect the NHS and vulnerable patients would be to support staff, not sack them.
Matt Hancock, the previous Secretary for Health and Social Care, wrote that the ‘logic is crystal clear’ and that ‘mandating the use of the best science isn’t controversial: it’s common sense’. For a country that prides itself as the home of liberty, it is shocking that an MP considers it ‘common sense’ to take such a ‘draconian approach’, as one union claimed, and force an entire sector to get a vaccine. According to Hancock, it is ‘only by mandating vaccines’ that we can ‘protect the freedoms we cherish so much’ – freedoms, it should be noted, that the government itself had taken away for the best part of two years.
Unsurprisingly, the British public have been lied to once again about the government’s approach to Covid-19. First they promised there would be only one lockdown. Then they promised there would be no vaccine passports. If the government truly cherished the public’s freedoms and the British culture, it would never have considered a vaccine mandate.