Health secretary Sajid Javid talking to Steve James a consultant at King’s College hospital in London. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
By Damien Gayle
Health secretary exchanges views with medic who says he’s had the virus and doesn’t want a vaccination
An NHS doctor has challenged Sajid Javid over compulsory vaccines for healthcare workers, telling the health secretary: “I’ve not had a vaccination; I don’t want to have a vaccination.”
The scene, which was caught by Sky News cameras, was first broadcast on Friday after Javid visited King’s College hospital in south London. It has been shared extensively on social media by both critics and supporters of vaccine mandates.
The government has decided that all NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine by 3 February or risk losing their job at the end of March. On Friday, trade union leaders urged the government to delay the new rule, or risk an exodus of thousands of healthcare workers.
While on a walkabout at King’s on Friday, Javid had asked doctors and nurses what they thought about government plans to require vaccination for all NHS staff. After a brief silence, Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist who has been working throughout the pandemic, replied: “I’m not happy about that.”
James told Javid: “I’ve had Covid at some point, I’ve got antibodies, and I’ve been working on Covid ITUs since the beginning; I have not had a vaccination, I do not want to have a vaccination. The vaccine is reducing transmission only for about eight weeks with delta. With Omicron it’s probably less. And for that I would be dismissed if I don’t have a vaccine? The science isn’t strong enough.”
“That’s your view,” Javid replied. Turning to a group of nurses he added: “And your views?” However, they did not respond.
Turning back to James, Javid continued: “I respect that but there are also many different views.”
Javid added: “I understand that but obviously we have to weigh all that up for both health and social care and there will always be a debate about it … ”
James replied: “Maybe there is an opportunity to reconsider with Omicron and the changing picture, or at least the nuance that will allow doctors who have had antibody exposure, who’ve got antibodies, who haven’t had the vaccination, to not have it, because the protection I’ve got is probably equivalent to someone who is vaccinated.”
James said: “But if you want to provide protection with a booster you’d have to inject everybody every month. If the protection has worn off for transmission after two months then after a month you’ve still got a bit of protection. But if you want to maintain protection you’re going to need to boost all staff members every single months, which you’re not going to do.”
Javid answered his challenge by saying: “We take the very best advice that we can, from vaccine experts.”
Half a day after the video was published on Twitter, it had been watched about 1.2m times.