Watch: Sajid Javid confronted by unjabbed NHS doctor

Watch: Sajid Javid confronted by unjabbed NHS doctor
(Sky News)
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Since becoming Health Secretary there has been one big question Sajid Javid cannot answer: how can he justify firing a worker who has recovered from Covid, has antibodies and doesn’t want the vaccine? Javid first did this with unjabbed care home workers and now plans to fire unjabbed NHS doctors. Today he met one of them — and it didn’t go well.

During a visit to King’s College Hospital in south London, Javid was on camera talking to NHS staff asking them what they thought about his plans for compulsory vaccination. He presumably expected them to agree. But then along comes Steve James, an intensive care doctor who told the Health Secretary he should reconsider his no-jab-no-job approach. ‘I’ve had Covid at some point. I’ve got antibodies’, Dr James said. ‘I’ve been working on Covid ICU since the beginning. I have not had a vaccination, I do not want to have a vaccination. The vaccines are reducing transmission only for about eight weeks for 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.’

Javid’s answer? He didn’t have one. There is a debate, he muttered, and asked the other doctors what they thought. None disagreed with the Cambridge-educated Dr James, who then returned to his theme.

‘I have a colleague in the same position,’ he told Javid. ‘There are doctors who have antibody protection who haven’t been vaccinated: The protection that I’ve got from transmission is equivalent to someone who is vaccinated.’

‘At some point that will wane’, replied Javid — but Dr James said the same is true for vaccination. Is the government really going to boost people every month? ‘You’re not going to do [it]’, said Dr James. Javid muttered that he takes ‘the very best advice we can’.

Maybe that advice should include the words of Steve James. Some 10 per cent of NHS staff haven’t had two doses yet, while just under 40 per cent haven’t got the booster yet (Javid has confirmed that the booster will be needed for his vaccine passports). Steerpike can’t help but feel that the government may have maxed out their persuasion tactics: if some healthcare staff haven’t had their jab by now (especially those who have recovery immunity) will they ever?

The Omicron variant is, according to the Health Secretary, intrinsically milder than Delta. So there is a very real possibility that any difficulties the NHS has will come from staff shortages, not a massive rise in Covid’s virulence. The logic behind Javid’s decision, Mr S hopes, is forthcoming.

This morning, NHS figures showed staff absences due to Covid up by 41 per cent in the week to 2 January. Dr James has a good solution: Javid could include antibodies and previous infection as proof of immunity, as countries like Israel have done. Mr S can’t help but feel that is wishful thinking. The Health Secretary won’t have expected such a public rebuke from one of the frontline cavalry against the latest wave of Covid. But if he intends to fire tens of thousands of NHS staff in Easter he’d better get better answers.