Front-line medical and social care staff in England must receive COVID-19 vaccinations or lose their jobs, the UK government announced on Tuesday.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that all those working in the National Health Service (NHS) and social care will have to get vaccinated.
“We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS, and of course protect the NHS itself,” he told MPs.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the mandate will apply to health and social care workers who have “direct, face-to-face contact” with patients—such as doctors, nurses, dentists, and domiciliary care workers, unless they are exempt.
The rule will also apply to porters or receptionists who may have social contact with patients.
Javid said staff will not be required to have a winter flu vaccination, though the option remains under review.
According to DHSC, over 92.8 percent of NHS staff have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 89.9 percent have had both doses, but more than 103,000 people remain unvaccinated.
If the mandate is approved by Parliament, there will be a 12-week grace period to allow unvaccinated staff to have both doses of the vaccine before enforcement begins from April 1, he said.
The government has already announced a vaccine mandate for all staff working in care homes in England, who will no longer be allowed to work in the sector from Nov. 11 unless they get both doses of a CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus vaccine.
Javid expressed satisfaction with the effect of the vaccine mandate in push vaccinations in the care sector, saying the number of unvaccinated people working in care homes had fallen from 88,000 to just 32,000 at the start of last month.
“If we look at what has happened with social care, care homes, since that policy was announced, there was a significant fall in the equivalent number and I think we can certainly expect that here.”
The main opposition Labour party said it wants to see NHS staff vaccinated but advised the government to “proceed with caution” given possible staff shortages.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said NHS trusts are concerned that the policy “could exacerbate some of these chronic understaffing problems,” adding “we simply cannot afford to lose thousands of NHS staff overnight.”
Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, said the government should boost vaccination rates through “persuasion, conversation, peer group support.”
Sara Gorton, the union’s head of health, said the move to bring in mandatory vaccinations is “really risky,” as it could have “really, really difficult consequences for the NHS in what we know is going to be a really difficult winter.”
PA contributed to this report.