Shortly before Christmas, I wrote in these pages about why, in my view, the Covid vaccine should be made a contractual requirement for healthcare workers. A three-line whip. No excuses.
I knew what I was saying was likely to stoke some controversy. And, indeed, it did.
I'm against mandatory vaccination in general. But when it comes to NHS and care staff, I have a different view.
You shouldn't be able to work with patients in a hospital or care home unless you've had the jab. That should go for doctors and nurses, as well as all support and admin staff, cleaners, porters – every single employee, full-time, part-time, agency or otherwise. And it needs to happen without delay.
Why am I so strident? Well, as it was first revealed by this newspaper, thousands of people died in the first wave of the pandemic from Covid they caught in hospital. It's a shocking state of affairs, and the problem is ongoing.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Hospitals have become good at testing patients for Covid on arrival, limiting visits and putting those who are positive on separate wards. But it's no use if nurses, doctors and other staff are wandering between them, unprotected themselves, therefore at high risk, and also, possibly unknowingly, carrying the virus.
We already know that the new Oxford vaccine not only protects the individual from illness, but also reduces transmission by at least 30 per cent.
Vaccinating the entire workforce, combined with testing could help end this problem pretty much straight away. We all would benefit. But it would mean full compliance: every patient-facing worker having the jab.
Doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine arrive at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex
On social media, my views were received in some quarters with predictable anger and personal insults were hurled my way. One person even threatened to inject me with a deadly poison.
It should be noted that many more, including nurses and doctors, said they thought my suggestion was a good one.
But there were some worrying posts: 'I know several NHS staff who wouldn't touch it [the vaccine] with a barge-pole,' commented one. When asked for more examples, they replied: 'A nurse, and a trained paramedic.' And this one: 'We work for the NHS and we are not lab rats.' Or this, from someone in Blackburn: 'I work in health and don't know anyone who wants to take the vaccine.'
I could go on, and I have to say the posts didn't come as a shock. You see, this whole subject has long been a passion of mine. Day to day, I'm a science writer and broadcaster, but I sat for many years on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation, the body that provides advice to the Government on who to give vaccines to.
Although I'm no longer part of it, I worked closely with the Department of Health during the swine flu pandemic of 2009. And that's how I came to discover that the NHS has an appalling track record when it comes to vaccinating its workforce.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Back then, the flu jab uptake by hospital staff was dismal – under 30 per cent nationally, and even lower in some areas. It's now 75 per cent, but that's not good enough given that flu can kill vulnerable patients.
It's well known there are anti-vaxers within the NHS workforce, just as it does elsewhere in society. But their view is not compatible with patient care. Some say no jab, no job, but I don't believe people should be sacked – and there are valid reasons some people can't be vaccinated. But if you havn't had the jab, for whatever reason, you shouldn't be anywhere near a patient.
I should probably admit that, now, it's also become personal. Two weeks before Christmas, my husband and I caught Covid. And it probably came from hospital.
My sister, who has been very careful throughout the pandemic, exchanged Christmas presents with my husband and me and we spent some time together outdoors on the last weekend of November (this was well before the Christmas lockdown was announced, and we live in the Cotswolds, which was at the time in tier 2).
The following day she started coughing and had a Covid test. On the Monday, she called to tell us that she was positive.
By the following Wednesday, my husband and I were both feeling unwell – me with a banging headache, muscle aches and pains, and him feeling achy and exhausted.
Off we went for a drive-through test – even though, technically, we did not have the required symptoms of