England set to U-turn on mandatory vaccines for healthcare staff

The U.K. government will review its plan to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health and social care workers in England with a view to axing the policy.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons Tuesday that mandatory vaccination was no longer “proportionate,” amid rising immunity in England and the “intrinsically less severe” nature of the Omicron variant when compared to previous strains of coronavirus.

“While vaccination remains our very best line of defense against COVID-19, I believe that it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as a condition of employment through statute,” Javid said. The shift will be subject to a consultation.

Under the original plans, all frontline healthcare workers were required to have received all three doses of the vaccine by April 1. Around 77,000 staff — or around 5 percent — are yet to receive a single dose.

The government had come under pressure from some groups representing healthcare workers, who warned the requirement could put hospitals and care homes under fresh staffing pressure.

The Royal College of Nursing director Patricia Marquis said ahead of the announcement: “It was never in the interests of patient safety to threaten tens of thousands with dismissal in the middle of a staffing crisis.”

But Jeremy Hunt, the former U.K. health secretary, criticized the government’s planned U-turn.

“I am yet to meet a single [healthcare worker] that believes that anyone in contact with patients has a right to put them at increased risk by not having a vaccine,” Hunt said. “Isn’t the real reason that we’ve made this decision because we’re having a staffing crisis and the government still hasn’t brought forward plans to address this?”

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