Tens of thousands of nurses across the UK have not had their first coronavirus vaccine, sparking fears that they could contract Covid-19 or infect patients.
A Royal College of Nursing (RCN) survey of 24,370 nurses found that 85% had had at least one dose, with the remaining 15% unvaccinated.
The findings show that the government is in danger of failing to deliver one of the main elements of its pledge that all 15 million Britons in the top four priority groups for immunisation – which includes all health and social care staff – should have been offered a first shot by next Monday, 15 February.
“It is extremely worrying that, as our survey suggests, many thousands of nursing staff have yet to be given their Covid-19 vaccine less than a week before the government’s deadline,” said Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN’s chief executive and general secretary.
“With only days to go, every effort must be made to reach all nursing staff to ensure their protection and that of the patients and vulnerable people they care for.”
The RCN said scaling that 15% up to its 450,000-strong membership suggested an estimated 75,000 nurses had still not had their initial jab.
The college said it was critical that all nurses had a Covid vaccine so that they, their families and patients were protected, adding that any nurse left unvaccinated was “a risk to themselves and those they care for”.
While 91% of nurses directly employed by the NHS have had at least one jab, just 71% working for other organisations – such as district nurses, health visitors or those in care homes – have received theirs.
Overall, 20,719 (85%) of those surveyed had received the first of the two doses of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Seven in 10 of those who had not yet had a vaccine worked in non-NHS settings.
While only 6% of nurses who work directly for the health service have not been offered a vaccine, much greater proportions of nurses who work through an employment agency (35%) or as temporary staff (19%) have still not been invited for an appointment.
A minority of nurses do not want to have a Covid vaccine. The RCN asked the 1,624 nurses who had not taken up an offer of a jab why they had refused. Of those, 38% said they did not want to have the vaccine at the moment or were undecided, and 12% did not want to have a vaccine at all. A third (33%), however, had an appointment booked and planned to attend.
Overall, 902 respondents (4%) said they had decided not to have a vaccine or been advised against doing so. The most common reasons they cited were: worry that the vaccine was unsafe or had not been tested enough; fears about side-effects; and belief that it may not prove effective in the long term against all strains of Covid-19.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts in England, said: “It is encouraging to see high levels of NHS staff uptake on the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as indicated by this survey.
“It is really important that as many staff as possible take the opportunity to get vaccinated to help protect colleagues and patients. Trusts are making concerted efforts to ensure coverage is as comprehensive as possible.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was following the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation’s advice and would have offered everyone in the top four priority groups a vaccine by next week.
A spokesperson said: “This includes temporary, agency and voluntary workers who are at an increased risk of contracting or transmitting the virus to other people particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, as well as to other staff in a healthcare environment.
“The NHS is working at pace to vaccinate these groups and we are on track to offer a vaccination to everyone in these first four priority groups by mid-February.”