Mandatory vaccination for nursing staff: why conversation trumps coercion

Nurses know the power of public health messaging and expert persuasion – so it’s the most effective approach to take to maximise their coronavirus vaccine uptake

Picture: Alamy

At the start of the pandemic a seriously ill relative of mine was admitted to hospital.

If there had been a vaccine against coronavirus available then, I would have wanted all healthcare staff caring for him to have it. I’m sure many people in similar circumstances now feel the same way.

However, making vaccination compulsory for health and social care staff is not the best way to protect against this lethal virus.

The government may actually create peril by continuing down the path it is now preparing – to make the vaccine a mandatory condition of employment for care home staff in England, with a consultation on the same proviso for NHS staff.

Compulsory immunisation of nurses is a contentious issue

Compulsory workforce vaccination is a divisive issue. A 2019 Nursing Standard survey showed more than a third (36%) of 2,000 respondents opposed compulsory flu jabs for healthcare workers, while 46% were in favour of them. Nursing staff also reported they would leave if vaccination were to be forced on them – and that was in ‘normal times’, before the whole nursing workforce had endured 15 months of a global health emergency.

We can ill afford anything that makes health and social care staff feel under even more pressure than they already do, while unions’ time – most including the RCN and British Medical Association are against it – would be better spent elsewhere.

The encouragement of public health messaging is being shown to work

In any case, encouragement – rather than enforcement – is showing signs of success. The Vaccine Confidence Project, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has been publishing figures that show a significant increase in willingness to be vaccinated among the general population. This trend includes Muslim communities, Asian and black people – populations where there has been evidence of vaccine hesitancy.

NHS England and NHS Improvement credits celebrities such as the comedian Sir Lenny Henry and food writer and broadcaster Nadiya Hussain for helping with this but it’s also, undoubtedly, the result of conversations led by healthcare professionals. Similarly, while NHS England says staff who don’t have the vaccine can be redeployed, it also advises a manager or ‘person of trust’ speaks to staff to explore the reasons behind their reluctance to be vaccinated. Community nurses experienced in vaccine hesitancy pre-COVID know well that conversation trumps coercion. The same approach needs to be taken with staff too.

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