Community pharmacists will not be required by law to have two doses of the Covid vaccination, The Pharmacist has learned.
It comes as the health secretary announced today (9 November) that mandatory Covid vaccinations would be introduced for frontline health and social care workers.
Staff who have direct, face-to-face contact with patients while providing care, as well as ancillary staff such as receptionists, will have until 1 April 2022 to get both doses of the Covid vaccine unless they are exempt.
This will only apply across the CQC-regulated health and social care sector, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). The community pharmacy sector, however, is regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council.
This means that pharmacists in CQC-regulated hospitals and GP practices will be covered by the policy.
It comes after a six-week consultation, launched in September, which looked into making it compulsory for all frontline health and social care staff in England to have a flu and Covid vaccine in a bid to keep patients safe from the virus.
Flu not compulsory
Announcing the policy today, Mr Javid said the DHSC had decided against adding flu as a mandated vaccine for now.
In his statement to the House of Commons, Mr Javid said: ‘We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS and of course protect the NHS itself.’
He added: ‘We were not convinced we should go ahead with flu at this stage, but the option will remain open.’
Around 90% of NHS workers have had both doses of the Covid-19 vaccination so far, with around 103,000 NHS trust workers not having been fully vaccinated.
The health secretary said there would be a 12-week grace period between regulations being made and the enforcement of them to allow for time for healthcare workers to be vaccinated.
When asked if the new measure would lead to a skills shortage in the NHS, which is already stretched, Mr Javid said that this would be ‘monitored on a day-by-day basis’.
Following today’s announcement and the details of its impact on practice-based and hospital pharmacists, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Thorrun Govind, said: ‘We believe that informed consent is preferable to mandatory vaccination for health and care workers.
‘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.’
She added that it was ‘positive’ to hear there would be an equality impact assessment of the policy carried out, however that it would have a potential negative impact on staff and patients.
‘We are concerned that this policy will remove people from frontline care in a system that is under pressure and could affect patient care,’ she said.
‘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.’
It comes as the deadline for care home workers to be vaccinated is this week (11 November), after mandatory vaccinations were introduced for staff visiting care homes earlier this year.
In October, a survey found that over half of pharmacy staff believe that it should be mandatory for health and social care workers to be vaccinated against Covid and the flu to work in health settings.