Ben Lowry: Reticence around requiring health workers to be vaccinated

Henry McDonald wrote (Nov 15, see link below) a good column on these pages asking why health and care staff do not have to get vaccines, as in England.

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 8:53 am
Updated Sunday, 21st November 2021, 12:09 pm
Dr Tom Black’s answer on compulsory vaccines for health and care staff was soft in tone for a man who has been emphatic on Covid

He wrote: “In Northern Ireland however there is hardly even a debate about following England’s path. The main health unions vehemently oppose mandatory vaccination while the Health Minister Robin Swann won’t even agree that patients and their families have the right to ask which staff in a particular care home or hospital are not vaccinated.”

It is striking how politics, medicine and much of the media in NI was uncritical of lockdown, yet are reticent around jab compulsion for health and care staff.

Dr Tom Black recently talked on BBC Radio Ulster of the need to be respectful of arguments on both sides. Dr Black has for 18 months been given much airtime (and space in this newspaper) to outline his views on what needs to be done to control Covid. He did not hold back in calling for robust restrictions.

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Yet when we contacted him this week to ask his view on vaccine compulsion he said “the majority of doctors in Northern Ireland are fully vaccinated against Covid” and that it was sensible for health and care workers to be vaccinated.

But that is, first, an irrelevant answer. Given that 90% of adults in NI have had at least one jab it would be remarkable if doctors were anything other than mostly jabbed. The concern is the alarming suggestion that health workers are actually less likely to be jabbed than the public, perhaps as low as 80%.

Second, Dr Black’s answer is soft in tone for a man who has been emphatic on Covid. Is it merely sensible for staff to be vaccinated as he says? Or is it not essential, given what doctors tell us (and I believe) about the value of vaccines?

Dr Black makes a fair point that the NHS cannot afford to lose even a small number of staff who might leave if jabs were compelled. But health systems elsewhere are not letting that deter them.

It must be galling for relatives of people in care homes, who were unable to visit for so long, to have to tolerate loved ones being cared for potentially by the unjabbed, when the relative has taken full precautions so they can visit the homes.

• Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter editor. Other articles by him below and beneath that information on how to subscribe to the paper:

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