The scientists have done their part and the regulators have done the assessment. If everything goes according to plan, the rollout will begin this week: the first members of the British public will be vaccinated against Covid-19. Good mood all round.
As deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam pointed out last week, this first wave of vaccinations will be enough to eradicate about 99 percent of all Covid deaths, which is very encouraging.
Those over 80 who are most susceptible to the virus are at the top of the list to get a sting – followed by NHS staff. High risk patients, I can imagine, will be more than ready. And you’d think healthcare workers are too. But will they? I have worrying doubts.
Although I am a science writer and broadcaster in my day-to-day work, I sat for many years on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, the body that advises the government on who to give vaccines. I was the focus of decision-making during the 2009 swine flu pandemic in the Department of Health’s “bunker” below Whitehall.
And during my tenure, a debate seemed to rage on and on: whether or not certain vaccinations should be mandatory for doctors, nurses, and others who come in contact with patients.
It may come as a surprise, but the NHS has an appalling track record of vaccinating its workforce. It is often even more shocking that health workers are reluctant to be pushed. And that’s why it’s important that we resume this conversation immediately – because I think the Covid surge should be mandatory for them.
It may come as a surprise, but the NHS has an appalling track record of vaccinating its workforce
First of all, let me say that I do not and never have believed that vaccines should be mandatory for the rest of us. In fact, I raised an eyebrow when I commented on so-called immunity passports from Covid Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi earlier this month.
During a radio interview, he suggested that while the vaccine was voluntary, companies would send a “strong message” that would allow anyone to bans anyone who didn’t have the sting.
However, by making services – be it a pub or restaurant, a football game, some form of public transport, or a school – inaccessible to anyone who cannot prove they have been vaccinated, you are secretly making it mandatory.
I am not alone in the scientific community and I think this is a step too far. Younger people who are not really at risk from Covid receive a bump last. Will you stay locked up until then?
We also have no way of knowing how long the protection will last according to current knowledge. If you try to force people there will be many who refuse – and then what do you do?
Medical treatment should always be voluntary, except in extreme circumstances, otherwise it is an attack. The idea of the immunity pass was later overturned by Michael Gove, but it’s not difficult to see this as the direction of travel, so to speak.
Airline Qantas has already announced, for example, that it will introduce a “No Jab, No Fly” policy. However, it is unethical to allow companies that, let’s face it, do not have our health or our best interests in their hearts to make effective decisions for us.
Even so, I think doctors, nurses, and all allied health professionals, as well as anyone else who works in a hospital, general practitioner office, or other care facility, should have a stab.
Not just because it would protect those who risk their lives for us and calm their anxious families. Nor is it because preventing staff absenteeism from illness would ensure that the NHS can cope far better with it – though it would undoubtedly be the case.
This is because it would also help protect patients from one of the scandals of this pandemic: the extraordinarily high incidence of hospital-acquired infections. It took a freedom of information request from this newspaper to reveal the fact that in the first wave, 40 percent of those who had died of Covid in some hospitals had them caught in a ward.
The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine was approved for use in the UK this week as a major breakthrough