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Government ‘looking again’ at scrapping mandatory vaccine requirement

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Photo by PA.

By Jemma Crew, Jane Kirby, Rebecca Speare-Cole, PA

The Government is “looking…again” at whether to scrap mandatory coronavirus vaccines for frontline health and social care workers in the light of the less severe Omicron variant.

Ministers have been facing pressure to put back the requirement for staff in England to be double jabbed by April amid fears it will lead to a major staffing crisis.

The requirement for care home staff to have two doses came into force last November.

Frontline NHS and wider social care staff would need their first dose by Thursday in order to be double jabbed by April 1, and there have been protests and calls for the policy to be delayed.

Latest figures from NHS England show that 127,515 NHS and domiciliary care staff working in registered settings had not had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of January 23.

Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury, said it was a policy “we have always kept under review” and that the decision was made when the “extremely dangerous” Delta variant was dominant.

He told Sky News: “We continue to monitor that situation very closely.

“What we know about Omicron is it is much more transmissible but less severe – any decision that is taken this week will reflect that reality.

“I can’t pre-judge the decision that is going to be made but obviously we do recognise those realities, and that does open a space where we can look at this again.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid is set to meet ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee on Monday to confirm the U-turn, according to The Daily Telegraph.

It comes after the Department of Health and Social Care said last Monday there were no plans to change the policy following a number of reports suggesting ministers were considering an 11th-hour delay.

However, Mr Javid said on Tuesday that the policy is being “kept under review”.

He said that it was “right” to reflect on Covid-19 policies but he added that frontline NHS staff should have a Covid-19 jab as a “professional duty”.

On Monday, Boris Johnson said he believes it is “absolutely clear” that NHS and social care workers should get vaccinated.

He said Mr Javid would be providing an update later on how different variants might be dealt with because they have different implications when it comes to transmission.

Mr Clarke said it would be up to health ministers to decide whether the mandatory vaccination policy should remain in place for social care workers, should the move be scrapped for NHS staff.

Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said she was “frustrated” and “saddened for the care home staff who had lost their jobs needlessly” owing to the introduction of mandatory vaccination.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I think we’re really happy for our NHS colleagues if this is what’s going to happen because it’s an unnecessary burden, and persuasion will bring us to the same outcome.”

She added: “The people who we’ve lost, we hope they’ll think about coming back and we will do everything we can to try and encourage them to come back, but they will have found other roles and they may be happier in their other roles now and not want to move again.”

Groups including the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Nursing have been calling for the deadline to be put back.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association called for an “urgent impact assessment” on how the policy would affect staffing numbers.

Patricia Marquis, RCN director of England, said: “If these reports are correct, this climbdown by Government is long overdue.

“Vaccination is hugely important but this was the wrong policy, especially as it added to the current pressure on NHS and care services.

“It was never in the interests of patient safety to threaten tens of thousands with dismissal in the middle of staffing crisis.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she acknowledged that it is “a change of heart too late for the social care sector”, but said it would hopefully enable valuable staff to be brought back.

Conservative MPs welcomed the reports of a U-turn on Sunday with Andrew Rosindell tweeting that Mr Javid had made “the right decision”.

He said: “These free-thinking NHS workers’ jobs are saved and quite right too.

“Well done all those who had the courage to stand up for the values of a free society!”

Meanwhile, Mark Harper called the reported decision a “huge win”.

“My backbench colleagues & I have been pushing hard to spare the sack for tens of thousands of NHS & care workers,” he tweeted.

“It beggars belief that the PM & Health Secretary kept insisting on bulldozing this policy through, despite warnings of staff shortages, for so long.”

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