Pharmacists working in hospitals and general practice in England will face a mandatory requirement to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from 1 April 2022, the health secretary has said.
The decision follows a government consultation, published on 9 September 2021, which proposed requiring all staff providing services regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu to continue working on the frontline.
The CQC regulates services provided in general practice and in hospital, but not those provided in community pharmacy.
Speaking in the House of Commons on 9 November 2021, Sajid Javid confirmed that, while NHS staff employed in CQC-regulated settings will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 1 April 2022, they will not need to have a flu vaccination to continue their front line work.
He said the decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations was owing to healthcare workers’ “twin responsibilities” to patient safety and to the safety of other healthcare workers.
“We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS and, of course, protect the NHS itself.
“Only those colleagues who can show that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can be employed or engaged in those settings,” he said.
Javid added that those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients and those who are medically exempt are not required to have a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment.
He also said that “90% [of NHS staff] have received at least two doses” of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Despite the new requirements, the Department of Health and Social Care’s impact assessment of the policy says it expects 126,000 staff across health and social care to remain unvaccinated, potentially costing the NHS between £162m and £379m in recruitment.
According to results from The Pharmaceutical Journal’s 2021 salary and job satisfaction survey, 98% of 1,028 respondents said they had received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Of the 843 pharmacists who said which sector they work in; primary care network pharmacists had the highest proportion of respondents (2 out of 41) who said they had not had the vaccine.
Of the 402 community pharmacists who responded to the survey, 8 said they had not received the vaccine, with some saying this was owing to concerns about the long-term side effects, while another pharmacist said the time off to get vaccinated had not been authorised.
In its response to the government consultation, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said on 26 October 2021 that COVID-19 vaccinations should not be mandatory for health and care staff “as informed and educated choices about health interventions would be more beneficial long-term than enforcing them”.
Speaking after the announcement to make vaccinations mandatory, Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, said: “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 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.
“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.”
However, a survey of RPS members, run jointly with the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK, revealed that 53% of 2,211 respondents said it should be mandatory, just under a third (31%) “strongly encouraged” vaccination and 16% said it should be optional.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said: “The NHS has always been clear that staff should get the life-saving COVID-19 vaccination to protect themselves, their loved ones and their patients, and the overwhelming majority have already done so.
“Working with NHS organisations, we will continue to support staff who have not yet received the vaccination to take up the evergreen offer.”