There is a “strong case” for making Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for healthcare staff working with vulnerable patients, a Sage scientist has said.
Professor Michael Parker, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said making jabs mandatory for NHS staff could help reduce the huge risk of transmission in medical settings like hospitals.
However, while the health service is under such pressure, the argument might be outweighed by the practicalities, he added.
Speaking at a virtual Royal Society of Medicine briefing on vaccine hesitancy, Professor Parker said: “There is a strong case for certainly saying healthcare workers working with vulnerable groups [should get the vaccine]…there is a strong case for compulsion.”
A poll in November by the medical website Medscape, of 308 British doctors, found that four in 10 would not take a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it was approved, and almost six in 10 said it should not be compulsory for healthcare staff.
However, since the vaccine roll-out began, many healthcare workers have spoken about their relief at receiving the jab.
Professor Parker, a University of Oxford professor and director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics, said that the evidence showing widespread hospital transmission made the case for mandatory vaccination. It is expected that the vaccines will make people less likely to pass on infection, although the evidence is not totally clear yet.
However, Professor Parker added: “It’s complicated obviously because we’ve got a huge amount of stress on the NHS and the last thing we want is loads of people leaving because they don’t want a vaccination. So let’s be realistic.”
He also said that a nurse has tried to put him off getting a vaccine, and while it was “up to her” to make her own choices, “it ought to be a disciplinary offence for someone trying to convince patients”.
While there are no compulsory vaccines for healthcare staff in the UK, some are contractually obligated to get the hepatitis B jab and other vaccines, particularly if they work in high-risk settings.
In 2019, the then-chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies suggested healthcare staff should be required to get the flu vaccine every year.
The government has previously said that Covid-19 vaccines will not be compulsory for healthcare workers or the wider British public at this point.
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