The United Kingdom is moving to end its vaccine requirement for health care workers.
Speaking before Parliament Monday, U.K. Health Minister Sajid Javid announced that the government would open discussions on ending vaccination as a condition of employment in health and social care settings, citing the overwhelming population of vaccinated people and evidence suggesting that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants of COVID-19.
“Last Thursday, we woke up to a new phase of this pandemic, as we returned to Plan A,” Javid said. “People are no longer advised to work from home. Face coverings are no longer mandatory. Organisations no longer have to require the NHS Covid Pass. And from today, there’s no limit on the number of visitors allowed to care homes. Week by week, we are carefully moving our COVID response from one of rules and restrictions, back to one of personal responsibility.”
“We know of course that COVID-19 is here to stay,” he continued. “While some countries remain stuck on a zero-COVID strategy and others think about how they will safely open up here, we’re showing the way forward, and showing the world what successfully living with COVID looks like. The principle we’re applying is the same principle that’s guided our actions throughout this pandemic: and that is to achieve the maximum protection of public health with the minimum intrusion in people’s everyday lives. To me, this is what learning to live with COVID is all about.”
Javid then turned to the regulation which mandated vaccines as a condition of employment in health care. “When we consulted on Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment in the NHS and wider social care settings the evidence showed that vaccine effectiveness against infection from the dominant Delta variant has been, or was, between 65 and 80 percent depending on which vaccines you had received,” he said. “Balanced against this clear benefit was the risk that there would always be some people who would not do the responsible thing and choose to remain unvaccinated and in doing so, choosing to walk away from their jobs in health and care.”
Javid then made clear that one of the reasons the government was reconsidering was the shortage of health care workers after many refused to be vaccinated. “Despite it being their choice to leave their jobs, we have to consider the impact on the workforce in NHS and social care settings. Especially at a time when we already had a shortage of workers and near full employment across the economy.”
Javid defended the government’s December decision to impose a vaccine mandate, saying “[i]t was the right policy at the time.” He also pointed to a significant increase in the number of people who took the vaccine in the health care industry. He then pointed to the fact that the Omicron variant has swiftly overtaken the more severe Delta variant. “Given that Delta has been replaced, it’s then only right that our policy on Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment is reviewed,” he said.
Citing the decrease in hospitalizations, and the lesser severity of Omicron, Javid said that “it is not only right but responsible to revisit the balance of risks and opportunities that guided our original decision last year.” “While vaccination remains our very best line of defence against COVID-19, I believe it is no longer proportionate to require Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment through statute. So, Madam Deputy Speaker, today I am announcing that we will launch a consultation on ending Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment in health and all social care settings. Subject to the responses – and the will of this House – the Government will revoke the regulations.”
“It is now in our national interest to embark on this new phase of the pandemic where we keep the British people safe while showing the world how we can successfully live with COVID-19,” Javid concluded.
The U.K. announced on January 19 that it was lifting the majority of its COVID restrictions, including mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and work-from-home restrictions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson cited public response to the nation’s vaccination campaign as the impetus for the return to normal.