The Government has today (9 September) launched a consultation on making it mandatory for all frontline health and social care staff in England to have a flu and Covid vaccine.
The consultation proposes that only health workers who are fully vaccinated against Covid should be deployed to deliver health and care services in order to protect patients.
The proposals also suggest making the flu vaccine mandatory for frontline health and care workers, specifically those with face-to face contact with patients and clients.
It comes after the Government made it mandatory for all care home workers in England to be vaccinated against Covid earlier this year, unless medically exempt. These rules come into force on 11 November.
Views from NHS staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families will be sought over the next six weeks, with a final decision expected this winter, the Government said.
The consultation will consider three specific risks which can occur in clinical settings and how they can be decreased or avoided through vaccination.
Firstly, it will consider the level of interaction in a clinical setting between staff, patients and visitors. It will also look at the vulnerability of patients and high-risk procedures.
The consultation will also consider the benefit of compulsory vaccines to staff themselves, and the possibility of avoiding staff sickness absences which put pressure on the NHS during busy periods like winter when flu tends to circulate.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), nearly 92% of NHS trust staff across the UK have received their first dose Covid-19 vaccine, and 88% of staff have received both doses.
However, the DHSC said the uptake rates between NHS trusts can vary from around 78% to 94% for both doses.
National flu vaccination rates in the health service have increased from 14% in 2002 to 76% last year. However, in some healthcare settings, the rates appear to be as low as 53%.
The new consultation also said that it had considered whether it could define a ‘minimum vaccine uptake’ as with the approach taken for care home staff.
However, it suggested that this ‘would not be possible’ in settings such as hospitals, GP or dental practices because there is ‘significantly more movement in and out, as well as mixing within the setting’.
Responding to the launch of the consultation, Dr Penelope Toff, co-chair of the BMA public health medicine committee, said that while some healthcare workers have conditions in their employment contracts which require them to be immunised, for example against Hepatitis B, the new proposal has ‘far-reaching implications’.
‘It’s also important to understand that being vaccinated against Covid-19 doesn’t always prevent a person passing on the infection, so that when rates are high, other preventative measure, such as masks would also be needed. However, even if you have had the Covid-19 infection, vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself and others,’ she said.
Dr Toff added that Covid-19 and flu vaccine uptake among doctors remains high, but that there are also ‘small numbers of staff who are unable or unwilling’ to have the vaccines.
‘There are a number of reasons for this and it’s important that all views are taken into consideration in this consultation,’ she said.
However, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, emphasised that the policy would help those being treated in hospitals and other clinical settings, who are most at risk from Covid-19.
He said: ‘We must do what we can to protect them. It’s so clear to see the impact vaccines have against respiratory viruses which can be fatal to the vulnerable, and that’s why we’re exploring mandatory vaccines for both Covid-19 and flu.
‘We will consider the responses to the consultation carefully but, whatever happens, I urge the small minority of NHS staff who have not yet been jabbed to consider getting vaccinated – for their own health as well as those around them.’
A version of this story first appeared on our sister title, The Pharmacist.