Consultation has begun on plans to make Covid-19 and flu vaccinations for frontline health and care staff in England mandatory, the Government has announced.
The consultation process will last for a period of six week and take views on whether vaccine requirements should apply for health and social care workers.
Mandatory requirements would mean only those who are fully vaccinated against Covid, unless medically exempt, could be deployed to deliver health and care services.
The Government previously said all staff in registered care homes in England must be vaccinated against Covid from 11 November, unless medically exempt.
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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the consultation would focus on the proposals, their scope, and any potential impact making vaccines mandatory could have on staffing and safety.
Findings from the consultation will then help inform decision-making around how the mandate could be implemented and who could be exempt.
The consultation process will also seek views regarding whether flu vaccines should be a requirement for health and care workers.
Staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families are being urged to take part in the consultation process, with a final decision expected this winter.
According to the DHSC, around 92% of NHS trust staff have received one dose of a Covid vaccine, with 88% of staff having received both doses.
However, the DHSC said new data shows uptake rates between NHS trusts can vary from around 78% to 94% for both doses of the vaccine.
National flu vaccination rates in the health service increased from 14% in 2002 to 76% in 2020.
However, in some settings, rates are as low as 53%.
'We must do what we can to protect them'
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has urged all health and social care staff to be vaccinated against Covid, regardless of the outcome of the consultation.
He said: “Many patients being treated in hospitals and other clinical settings are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19, and we must do what we can to protect them.
“It’s so clear to see the impact vaccines have against respiratory viruses which can be fatal to the vulnerable, and that’s why we’re exploring mandatory vaccines for both Covid-19 and flu.
“We will consider the responses to the consultation carefully but, whatever happens, I urge the small minority of NHS staff who have not yet been jabbed to consider getting vaccinated – for their own health as well as those around them.”