UK Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi, has divulged that the British government is “absolutely thinking” of making vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory for frontline NHS workers.
Speaking to Sky news on Monday, Zahawi said it was “absolutely the right thing” and “incumbent on any responsible government to have the debate” on ways to protect the most vulnerable “by making sure those who look after them are vaccinated.”
The picture of vaccination take up within the NHS has been lower than the governments expectations, with Data from NHS England showing that 86% (1,187,805 of 1,378,502) of healthcare workers directly employed by the NHS received their first dose by 11 April, having had access to it since December, leaving 190,697 unvaccinated. In London the levels are lower, at 77.7% with 44 000 staff unvaccinated.
As the British government are still In the process of mandating vaccination for staff in social care settings, ‘UK Human Rights Blog’, which is run by a team of barristers, has noted that “the imposition of compulsory vaccination beyond the context of care homes is not currently permitted by law and would require an Act of Parliament”.
Legal analysts have also noted that the move toward mandatory vaccination, interferes with the right to private life protected by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and would leave the government open to legal challenges from a multitude of angles.
Yet, in considering bringing new legislation, Westminster will undoubtedly draw encouragement from the recent landmark ruling of the ECHR’s legal manifestation, The European Court of Human Rights, who in April judged that mandatory vaccinations against nine known diseases as a condition for children’s admission to pre-school in the Czech Republic, was not in violation of human rights laid out in the convention.
Political and clinical proponents of the initiative have cited a “duty of care” that health care professionals (HCP’s) have toward their patients, declaring that vaccination provides the best means of protection to all. President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Katherine Henderson, however, has dubbed such a move a “great shame”, favouring an approach of “explain and encourage and make people understand why vaccination is the right thing”.
Supporters of the vaccine rollout have also raised concern that pushes for mandatory vaccination may have a negative impact on already dissatisfactory levels of uptake, whilst medical unions have branded it the “wrong approach”
Speaking to RT News, nurse, Neomi Bennett, has voiced that such a move is “not going to be welcome by a large majority of staff”, adding that the government before expecting greater uptake, “need to address the issues, the wider issues, the safety of this vaccine.” Bennett also added that “a lot of people will actually flee the health service if it becomes mandatory”, which also bodes ill for an NHS experiencing an ongoing staffing crisis.
One of the main justifications offered by Zahawi is that vaccination against Hepatitis B is mandatory for surgeons, therefore “there is precedent” for mandatory Covid vaccination of all NHS staff. A number of commentators, however, such as Anthony Webber, feel such a bold assertion is a “ridiculous comment”, and a slanted false equivalence. Webber explained to RT News that Hepatitis B vaccinations have been “properly tried and tested”, whereas Covid vaccinations “have yet to be fully licenced, which won’t happen until 2023”, and are thus in their essence still experimental in nature.
Webber also took aim at a government that “has coerced people in the health industry to have this vaccine against their wishes”, adding that “because they exercised their control over the media we haven’t been able to have this debate.”
Webber’s concern on the tone of public debate, that Zahawi apparently so desires, was perhaps best evidenced in March on ITV’s GMB breakfast show, averaging 1.15 million viewers that month, when an “appalled” Piers Morgan declared that in the NHS “you either have the jab or you don’t go to work.”
Co-presenter and the nation’s favourite new TV doctor, Dr Hilary, also made attempts to compare unvaccinated NHS employees at work, to the allegedly unsanctioned practice of surgeons operating when infected with HIV or Hepatitis B. Hilary’s statement, however, was met with backlash from HIV campaigners, who pointed out the untruth’s and cynical intent of his statement, forcing an apology from Dr Hilary, who made modest acceptance of his “clumsy comparison”.
Criticism of the plan from within the medical industry, has pointed out that waving a duty of care in support of mandatory vaccination, is over emphasising the social value of a HCP’s labour, forgetting that professionals have a duty of care to themselves, as well as health employers having a duty of care to their employees. To make NHS staff take a vaccination that isn’t yet fully licenced, and according to the government’s own MHRA yellow card data has injured and killed thousands, arguably neglects these latter two duties.
The UK Government’s public information campaigns of commanding slogans, emotive imagery and repeated yet still unfounded assertions on vaccine safety, made it the UK’s biggest advertiser of 2020, as critics feel as it, along with its media beneficiaries, continue to frame the scope of public debate through a regime of sensationalism and censorship.
After months of denials from Zahawi and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, that the UK would not roll out vaccine passports, their realisation on the 17th May should give some indication as to what should be expected, if Zahawi now admits Westminister’s considerations.