Expressing its concerns over the Government’s decision to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for health workers in England, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has said an “informed choice” is better than compulsory vaccination.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said today (Nov 9) that health workers in England will have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by April 1, 2021, making it a mandatory condition of employment for those on the frontline of the NHS.
“All those working in the NHS and social care will have to be vaccinated. We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS and of course protect the NHS itself,” Javid told parliament.
The RPS said it “strongly encourages all pharmacists to take advantage of the Covid-19 vaccination programme and to get vaccinated unless there is a medical reason not to do so”. It belies that “this is best practice” and part of the pharmacists’ responsibility to act in the best interest of their patients.
However, in a press release today, the Society said: “Our response to the Government’s recent consultation and our position statement on mandatory vaccination are clear that informed and educated choices about health interventions are more beneficial long-term than enforcing them.
“We believe that informed consent is preferable to mandatory vaccination for health and care workers, said Chair of RPS in England Thorrun Govind, adding: “Other vaccinations that healthcare staff are required to have are not mandated in law, but part of occupational health or health and safety requirements. We believe that Covid-19 vaccination should be treated in the same way and offered as part of working for the NHS, with supportive engagement and education on why this is important.
“The approach taken to date means that over 92 per cent of NHS staff have now received their first Covid vaccine, and 90 per cent have received their second vaccine.
“The ethical implications of this regulation will need consideration, such as the rights of individuals to decide and consent as to what treatment they have. It also has implications for those delivering the vaccinations and puts them in a difficult position, as consent is a fundamental principle of good healthcare and professional practice.
“It’s positive to hear an equality impact assessment of this policy will now be carried out. We are concerned that this policy will remove people from frontline care in a system that is under pressure and could affect patient care. It may also cause an increase in inequalities across the workforce as those living and working in areas of deprivation are the least likely to be vaccinated, so the provision of care in these areas will be reduced accordingly.
“Compulsory vaccination could have other unintended consequences such as a negative effect on the mental health of NHS teams at a time when many health and care professionals are already experiencing difficulties as a result of workplace stress.”
Responding to the announcement that Covid-19 vaccination will be a condition of deployment for NHS staff in England, Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, said: “We strongly urge pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to get Covid-19 and flu vaccinations at the earliest opportunity, unless they are medically exempt, and ask them to encourage other members of their team to get vaccinated as well. For healthcare workers, getting vaccinated protects the individual, their family, and colleagues, as well as patients and the public.
“We responded to the Government consultation on making Covid-19 vaccination a condition of deployment for frontline health and care workers in England who are providing face-to-face care across the CQC-regulated health sector. There was already an existing statutory requirement for those working or volunteering in care homes in England to be vaccinated against Covid-19. We noted in our response that the Government was not proposing to extend the legal mandate to people working in pharmacies regulated by the GPhC. Wherever pharmacy professionals are working we urge them to take up the vaccine.
“As the Secretary of State’s announcement relates to the deployment of NHS staff, it will be for NHS employers to lead on implementing this policy. We recommend that any pharmacy professionals in England who work in settings regulated by the CQC, and who have questions or concerns about these requirements, should speak to their employer in the first instance.”