The government has halted controversial plans for the compulsory Covid vaccination of all frontline NHS and social care workers in England, just days ahead of the first jab deadline.
Addressing the House of Commons, the health secretary said the government was “looking again” at scrapping the measure in a bid to avoid a damaging confrontation with NHS workers in England.
In a U-turn, Sajid Javid said a consultation on ending compulsory vaccinations in health and social care settings will be launched.
Mr Javid said the much criticised jab mandate was informed by the severity of the Delta variant, which was dominant when the previous consultation took place last year.
But now the less severe Omicron variant, which currently represents over 99% of infections in the UK, has replaced Delta, he says it is only right the policy was reviewed, with the vaccine roll out being so successful.
“I believe it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as a condition of deployment through statute,” Mr Javid said.
“Today I am announcing that we will launch a consultation on ending vaccination as a condition of deployment in health and all social care settings.”
The regulations will be revoked when Parliament approves the changes, he added.
Ministers have been facing pressure to put back the requirement for frontline NHS staff in England to be double-jabbed by April 1, meaning they would need their first dose by Thursday.
It is estimated that around 77,000 frontline NHS workers in England face losing their jobs at a time when the health service is creaking under Covid pandemic pressures, with a huge backlog to deal with.
A similar vaccination policy has been in force for staff in registered care homes in England – they must have both jabs as a condition of deployment, unless they are exempt for valid medical reasons.