We welcome today's announcement that COVID-19 vaccination will not become a condition of deployment for all healthcare workers in England until the spring.
As we set out in our response to the Department of Health and Social Care consultation on this matter, we strongly agree with the aim of increasing vaccine uptake among health care workers to protect patients and others from harm. However, making COVID-19 vaccination a condition of deployment lacks evidence and justification, and risks having serious unintended consequences.
The policy could have serious implications for staffing, and healthcare workers are already in short supply as we head into winter. Further reductions in staffing levels are likely to lead to significant disruptions to care which could affect patients in many ways.
The delay gives the Government time to gain a better understanding of the likely effects of the policy. The impact of mandating vaccination for care home workers, which comes into force on 11 November, can be assessed. We will be able to see if vaccine uptake increases across this workforce, and the number of workers who decline vaccination and have to move away from patient-facing work.
Ethically, such a coercive policy requires strong justification and ought to be based on clear evidence that it is likely to be effective, over and above other less coercive measures. There is concerning evidence that applying pressure on UK health and social care workers to get vaccinated exacerbates vaccine concerns and increases distrust.
Danielle Hamm, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said:
“We urge the Government to now spend time exploring more thoroughly the reasons why some people are not taking up the offer of a vaccine, and give full consideration to other incentives and interventions that may be more effective without risking serious consequences for staffing and care of patients.”