From “heroes to villains”: Why some NHS staff oppose the COVID vaccinations mandate
Two years ago we stood on our doorsteps clapped, banged pots and pans and sounded car horns. We were urged to stay at home to protect the NHS.
At protests around the UK over the weekend, NHS workers urged everyone to protect the health service in a very different way; by opposing the NHS staff vaccine mandate.
Faces and stories of our NHS heroes have adorned magazines such as Vogue and billboards across the country. The people at the forefront of the pandemic, our NHS staff, were being hailed as heroes.
They were given priority shopping slots in supermarkets, discount codes in retail outlets and free accommodation in otherwise abandoned hotels; their stories of working on the pandemic frontline, some without correct PPE and not knowing the true risks to themselves, were seen on news reports daily.
How different that picture looks today as an estimated 80,000 face the biggest mass sacking in UK history due to a vaccine mandate for NHS staff. If this goes ahead it is estimated to decimate an already stretched NHS.
Matthew Trainer, the chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS trust in London, told The Guardian that the loss of unvaccinated midwives, along with the fact that it already had a 10% vacancy rate among those specialists, “would put us in quite a serious position”.
Midwifery and maternity services may be the hardest hit with Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, saying that at one hospital trust in England, 40 midwives did not want the jab, speculating that sacking them may mean that the maternity unit would have to close.
NHS chiefs have recently warned that the staffing crisis is worsening, with latest figures suggesting nearly 100,000 vacancies require filling, while in some regions, more than one in 10 NHS posts remain unfilled.
Every aspect of the NHS will be affected. The National Health Service everyone was urged by the government to protect in 2020, is in real danger of crumbling under the current pressure.
If this goes ahead, April 1 is set to change the NHS forever, as it loses some of its most experienced staff and we suffer the worst NHS staff shortages of a lifetime.
Both the Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives have separately called upon Sajid Javid, the health secretary, to halt the move for mandated vaccinations amongst NHS staff, as voted for by MPs last month. The Royal College of Nursing warns it “would be an act of self-sabotage” in light of the already detrimental staffing crisis plaguing the NHS.
On Saturday, protests took place all over the country with NHS workers reportedly joining in as other activists stood with them in solidarity against the NHS vaccine mandate.
In London, it was reported NHS nurses, doctors and paramedics had thrown their uniforms and scrubs in front of the entrance to Downing Street, forming a clearly visible pile of mainly blue garments to represent the voices of opposition from within the NHS itself.
NHS staff leave uniforms at Downing Street in protest at impending deadline for vaccine mandate and loss of their jobs. pic.twitter.com/NEyFi8R9nA
— Sian Thomas 🍊🍊🍊🌳 (@SianThomas7) January 23, 2022
Hundreds also marched in Manchester, Liverpool and several other large UK cities, complimenting similar action in countries across Europe.
Nationally, the number of NHS workers unvaccinated by choice is still a minority and official government, medical and NHS advice is for everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
However, in the eyes of many, these workers have gone from heroes to villains overnight simply for not wanting the coronavirus vaccine.
NHS staff stories
As mandatory vaccine arguments continue to drive a deep wedge between opposing views, with some NHS staff appearing to be supporting controversial anti-vaccination or anti vaccine mandate groups, many are asking why doctors and nurses would refrain from being jabbed.
I Am Birmingham spoke to NHS staff at Saturday’s protest in Birmingham about their thoughts on the government mandate and why they were choosing to not be vaccinated.
Just as we heard their stories of working on the frontline in 2020, we hear their stories in 2022. All names of NHS staff who spoke to us have been changed to maintain anonymity.
These are the personal opinions of the protesting NHS workers who chose to speak to us and not official NHS guidelines.
“The jab doesn’t work”
Birmingham radiographer ‘Melissa’ told us she didn’t personally believe the COVID vaccination worked.
“In the hospital I work in, a triple-jabbed radiologist is one of those in ICU with the most serious cases, and all of the jabbed staff are constantly off work catching the virus more than once, the jab just doesn’t work.
“One of the staff members has not had a period since she took her jab and now she’s worried about what it may have done to her, she was already struggling with her fertility and now she has to deal with this.
“Seeing what has happened to my colleague, I don’t want my niece, who doesn’t have children yet, to have this”
“I’ve had all my vaccinations”
‘Paula’, a nurse who works in a Black Country hospital, didn’t agree with mandated jabs for her colleagues because she is unsure about the vaccine’s long-term consequences.
“I am worried about what happens in the long-term. We have no long-term data about this.
“My husband had coronavirus and just had the sniffles, I would rather deal with that than inject something into my body what we have no idea how it will effect us in years to come.
“I’m not ‘anti-vaxx’, I have had all my other vaccinations to date. They all have decades of data to back their comparative safety, this doesn’t.”
“Blood clots and heart problems”
‘Sandra’, a nurse working in Birmingham’s City Hospital, is worried about the side effects of the vaccinations.
“I work with people that are coming in with supposed side effects, people suddenly getting blood clots and heart problems after having their injections.
“It can’t be proven but it’s a big coincidence.”
“It’s like playing Russian roulette with your life”
‘Tracey’, who works in one of the region’s larger hospitals, said she can’t afford to lose her NHS job but feels taking the vaccine is a gamble.
“Like everyone else I am worried. I have not long moved into a new house and can’t afford to not work.
“But having seen everything, I feel it is like playing Russian roulette with your life.
“At the start the hospital was full of COVID patients, it’s just not like that anymore.”
“I will not be coerced”
Mental health nurse ‘Sanjeet’ told us having the vaccine was an issue of consent, which she doesn’t believe is being respected.
“I am newly qualified and I am already off sick with the stress of this. The ethics that all clinicians practice under is that of informed consent. How as a clinician can you uphold informed consent for your patients if you don’t for yourself.”
She also claimed the scientific evidence didn’t back the mandate, although Government health officials maintain it’s the best course of action.
“At present the science does not support an NHS vaccine mandate and as clinicians, we engage in evidence based practice. I had COVID in November 2020 and I recovered. I now have natural acquired antibodies which are sufficient to fight against COVID 19 and its many variants.
“Emerging research shows that acquired immunity is more affective against Omicron than those who are double vaccinated, therefore I do not see the scientific justification for enforced vaccination.
“The Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on national TV that the two vaccines do not work. So why would I take it? I will not be coerced. I am a healthcare professional. I am human and I am also a patient.
“My choice and beliefs based on evidenced should be recognised and not dismissed.
“The vaccine does not prevent catching or transmitting COVID-19, so the unvaccinated staff are no more or a risk to patients than the vaccinated.
“We stood on the frontline through the height of the pandemic at times without adequate PPE, when many were allowed to work from home, and the reward for that is for the government to sack those very workers who kept the country going.
“How can sacking staff from an already stretched NHS be beneficial for the patients?”
‘I’m not anti-vaccine, just anti-vaccine mandate…’
We spoke to occupational therapist ‘Sarah’ at length, who told us she understood the virus was a very real threat, but found forced vaccines to be unethical.
“I have over a decade of experience in my field. I am not anti-vaccine and I am not a COVID denier. I am anti NHS vaccine mandate and I stand for the principles and morals for individuals to have the right to choose.
“Many of the staff who are double some vaccinated and some triple have had far worse symptoms than myself when I caught it recently. I had very mild symptoms and it lasted a day. While the others were really unwell and it lasted at least a week.
“I have had patients who have ended up with Guillain Barre Syndrome, Transverse Myelitis, and other nerve damage after having the vaccine. It has affected my niece’s periods. I spoke to a lady today who’s daughter had the vaccine, haemorrhaged and is now profoundly disabled.
“Meanwhile, the government have published liability bills so if something happens to you as a result of the vaccine, you have no grounds for it to be investigated and to have anyone held to account. We should be asking the question why would they do that.
“I am not against vaccines. I am for pro-choice and for bodily autonomy, the right to choose what medications are put in our bodies not to mention the fact that this is an experimental medication.
“As practitioners within our professional code of conduct, it includes consent to medical treatment.
“We do not force our patients to have treatment providing they have capacity to make decisions and if they don’t there would be a best interest decision. Full and transparent information should be provided in order to make those decisions.
“The very fact that fully vaccinated people can catch it means they are able to pass it on. So what is the purpose of having different rules and passports? Furthermore, the scientists have said all along that it protects the individual from serious health complications – which is also questionable from what I have seen personally – but they have always said you can still contract it and pass it on.
“There is no significant evidence that vaccinated people pose any more of a risk to the public than a vaccinated person. If there was of cause, everyone would have it, but there simply isn’t any. If there is, the public should be able to see the real science, not a glossy promo from ‘big pharma’.
“There is also a waning effect of the vaccines that makes you question the lasting value of them. Will we be having boosters every 6 months?
“I fear that the NHS vaccine mandate is the start and they will go for our children and all workforces, so when people are condemning the protests because it doesn’t effect them, they should think about that.
“They [the government] have destroyed the social care sector and they are now doing it with the health care sector. In the meantime, all other restrictions are being lifted and the government who are imposing the rules are having a great time having parties.
“There is no logic to this. If you look at what is going on in Australia and Sweden and see what is happening, it is looking sinister.
“I say if you want the vaccine that’s okay and if you don’t that’s also okay.
“It’s caused a huge divide, so much so that people have lost the ability to listen to other perspectives, especially if it doesn’t match the status quo; with naysayers making comments like ‘they should all catch COVID and die!’ I mean, really! Where has compassion, humanity and morals gone. It’s frightening.”
Review of mandated vaccinations
The Prime Minister said in the Commons on Thursday () that it is “the responsibility of all healthcare professionals to be vaccinated” and said that the move to make vaccination mandatory was supported by the NHS in order to better protect patients from in-hospital infection.
However, fears of a backlash from NHS staff appear to have increased after leaked documents from DHSC officials warned government ministers of recent evidence that the decreased efficacy of two jabs against Omicron cast doubts over the proposed mandate.
This revelation, coupled with data on the variant’s reduced virulence, has created a higher chance of objections and judicial review,, according to The Guardian.
PM Boris Johnson has since reported to have stated the government may consider a “pause” on the NHS vaccine mandate, following an increasing number of MPs and professionals publicly opposing the mandate.