After initially announcing that all healthcare workers who were not fully vaccinated by 1 April would be dismissed, the Government now appears set to make a U-turn: its consultation on revoking the mandate has determined that ‘the view of this Government is that it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as a condition of deployment.’ Although an official revocation of the law has not yet taken place, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that ‘the Government will revert the regulations’ subject to the will of Parliament.
Our polling throughout last year found there was widespread support for the hypothetical idea of a vaccine mandate for NHS staff: 71% of respondents in our 10 November poll indicated they would support such a requirement, as did 82% in May and 77% in March.
However, with such a mandate no longer being purely hypothetical, our latest research reveals that views are now much more mixed: 46% support and 32% oppose the decision to require NHS doctors and nurses to be vaccinated, or else be fired, by April 2022. Note here that our question included ‘or else be fired’ in its wording.
Approval of the vaccine mandate is far from consistent across demographics: for instance, men (52%) are considerably more likely than women (41%) to support the Government’s decision to introduce mandatory vaccines for NHS frontline staff.
Britons aged 65 and above (52%) are also more prone to supporting the vaccine mandate than other age groups, with opposition falling to 25% among such respondents. By contrast, the gap between support and opposition is much closer for 25-to-34-year-olds (43% to 41%) and 35-to-44-year-olds (42% to 38%). When it comes to respondents’ past General Election vote, we observe notably more support for the decision among those who voted Liberal Democrat (68%) or Conservative (56%) in 2019 compared to those who voted Labour (42%).
Though to varying degrees, majorities or pluralities across gender, age group, and past political affiliation thus indicate that they support the Government’s law requiring all NHS frontline staff to be fully vaccinated by April, or else face dismissal.
Support for the mandate likely largely emanates from a concern that NHS staff could be putting their patients at risk by not being vaccinated. To this point, most Britons feel unvaccinated doctors and nurses pose at least some level of threat to their patients, with 35% saying they do so a slight amount, 28% a fair amount, and 13% a significant amount.
Alternatively, 24% believe unvaccinated NHS staff do not pose any threat at all to their mostly vaccinated patients—a perspective that is again much more common among women (30%) than among men (18%). The latter view is also shared by 30% of 25-to-34-year-olds and 32% of 35-to-44-year-olds, in comparison to just 13% of those aged 65 and above.
At the same time, 58% of Britons ultimately express a belief that unvaccinated doctors and nurses are more likely to save lives than harm lives, compared to 25% who think they are more likely to harm them, underscoring the complexity of the issue.
Ultimately, over three-quarters (77%) of the public thinks the NHS cannot afford to let go of its unvaccinated doctors and nurses, while only 11% think it can afford to do so. Indeed, concerns about potential staffing shortages have been one of the driving factors of both public opposition to the policy and the Government’s decision to reconsider it.
In light of these significant concerns, 52% of respondents in a poll last month said it made the most sense for public health to keep unvaccinated doctors and nurses in order to prevent potential staffing shortages, whereas 29% believed it made the most sense for the NHS to fire unvaccinated staff in order to encourage as many as possible to get vaccinated.
Thus, when confronted with the possible consequences of the vaccine mandate, support for it wanes, meaning that support may have been predicated on the assumption that virtually all NHS staff would get the vaccine if required to do so. Now that this assumption is being challenged, the Government’s decision to reconsider the policy is, in fact, in line with much of the public’s views. While Britons were initially strongly in support of requiring doctors and nurses—among other professions—to be vaccinated, the undesirable reality of staffing challenges has lessened that support, resulting in thoroughly varied views on the matter.