Forcing health and frontline social care staff to have the Covid-19 vaccine would be a “dangerous way to go”, an NHS hospital chief has said.
Professor David Loughton, chief executive of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust – which employs 10,500 people, said his organisation was having to have “one-to-one conversations” with staff about having the jab.
But he said it was “not unusual” for there to be vaccine reticence and followed a pattern already recognised within health bodies, from when the annual flu-jab season comes around.
He said: “Lots of people cannot wait to get their vaccination, but there will be others who will need to have more information and I am sure (will) get to a better place.”
Prof Loughton was speaking to journalists on Friday during a weekly regional Covid-19 briefing, alongside other political and health leaders.
The hospital trust chief said it was “hard to believe” it was a year this week that the West Midlands suffered its first death from Covid-19.
The patient died on March 8, 2020 – at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton.
“That was the fourth death in the country,” said Prof Loughton.
“I don’t think we could ever envisaged that we would have 125, 000 deaths.”
But he added the NHS had done “a brilliant job”, during “it’s most difficult year ever”.
He added that the vaccination rollout “was going spectacularly well”.
However, health leaders were asked about regional figures from NHS England showing the proportion of care home staff around the West Midlands who had yet to have a vaccine, with about 7,000 workers overall still needing an injection.
In the week to March 11, for Birmingham it was 35.9% who have yet to have a jab; Wolverhampton 29.3%, Solihull 28.8%, Coventry 28.2%, Sandwell 27.9% and Dudley 27.4%.
There have been reports of relatives who have waited a year to safely visit loved ones, postponing visits because of outbreaks in care homes – with staff vaccination levels under close scrutiny.
Dr Lola Abudu, a Public Health England (PHE) deputy director, said there was “huge variation in uptake” among care home staff in different areas, adding it “isn’t where we want it to be”.
She said there were “a number of reasons for this”, including “misinformation” about health risks among a workplace population that was “overwhelmingly” female, with a large proportion of staff who were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) or from Eastern Europe.
Dr Abudu added “fertility has been a concern…but we know that the vaccine does not impact on fertility, from the data that we have.
“I think there is also something in there about accessibility, because these are shift workers, whether people are around when the vaccine is offered.
“A lot of these folks, they don’t want to be first in line, they want to see how it’s gone and make their decisions following that.”
She supported the voluntary approach adding it was “the best way”, and to give people information and support “to make the right individual decisions”.
Prog Loughton said any decision to make it part of health or social care workers’ contracts that they must have the vaccine would have to be “a political decision”.
But he added that as time went on a lot more staff would start to think about how not having a vaccination “may restrict your life”.
He said: “I remember HIV in the mid-1980s, when that all started, and if you wanted a mortgage and you put on there (the application) you had HIV test you didn’t get mortgage.
“You have seen Saga holidays, I think they were first to say you will have to prove you’ve had the vaccine.
“You may have to have a vaccine passport to go on holiday to Portugal. I don’t know.
“But I think we should be a long way away from mandating that it is a term and condition that you have it.
“I think that is a dangerous place to go at this stage.
“There are other ways of doing it.”
Birmingham city council leader Ian Ward said moving closer towards measures which forced people to have the vaccine could strengthen the hand of anti-vaxxers.
Cllr Ward, who said he was getting his vaccine jab on Tuesday, said: “What I don’t think we should do is give any succour or encouragement to those that spreads myths around the vaccine
“A move to compulsion would likely put us in that space.
“We have to work with people, listen to their concerns and try to allay any fears that people have.”