COVID-19: Coronavirus vaccine could be made compulsory for NHS staff, minister says

·3-min read

COVID jabs could be made compulsory for NHS staff, the vaccines minister has told Sky News.

Nadhim Zahawi said the government is considering making coronavirus vaccines compulsory for healthcare workers to help stop the spread of the virus in hospitals.

He told Trevor Phillips on Sunday: "It would be incumbent on any responsible government to have the debate, to do the thinking as to how we go about protecting the most vulnerable by making sure that those who look after them are vaccinated.

"There is precedent for this - obviously surgeons get vaccinated for hepatitis B. So it's something we are absolutely thinking about."

A senior Labour frontbencher warned that "threatening" NHS staff would be less effective than working with those who had doubts about the jab.

Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said: "Given we have got a recruitment crisis in parts of the NHS, I think it's far more important we try and work with staff rather than against them.

"Threatening staff, I don't think is a good idea."

Public Health England and the NHS had been successful when they had worked with people to address their doubts and answer questions about the jab, she said.

"I would like to see the government work with the NHS and social care staff," Ms Debbonaire added.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told Sky News the numbers of unvaccinated staff are "very small and decreasing".

NHS trusts think the way ahead is to understand people's concerns and to "address those concerns", he added.

"All the concerns can be met if you have that quality of conversation," he said.

People aged over 30 in England are now eligible for vaccination, leaving only adults aged between 18 and 29 still having to wait.

Nearly 39 million people have been vaccinated with a first dose in the UK, while nearly 25 million have had both doses.

Those aged 39 or under, and pregnant women, are being offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in line with recently updated guidance.

Mr Zahawi said the government was awaiting approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency before COVID jabs will be offered to under 18s.

It comes after the European Commission authorised the Pfizer vaccine to be given to children as young as 12 following approval by the European Medicines Agency.

The vaccines minister said: "You have to make sure the vaccines are incredibly safe before you give them to children.

"We will be ready. The infrastructure we've built allows us the ability to deploy vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds as well as, of course, planning for the boost in the autumn and the flu vaccination campaign.

"The infrastructure is there but, of course, the clinicians have to make that final decision."

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi defended the response to the pandemic last year after the prime minister's former chief adviser Dominic Cummings accused the government of sending "people back to care homes with COVID".

The minister insisted that the government had done its best to protect care homes and said both testing and protecting those in care homes were priorities, but the UK had to work within the available resources.

He said: "You are in the eye of a storm, in the pandemic early last year we only had the capability to conduct about 2,000 tests a day, the diagnostics capability of the UK was almost non-existent.

"In the last seven days, we conducted six million tests, at every stage Matt Hancock used every resource available to him to do his best possible job for people he did protect."

Mr Zahawi added that Mr Cummings would have seen the capability of the civil service during the vaccine rollout.

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