The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that the requirement for Covid vaccinations for health and social care workers will be scrapped from 15 March.
The decision follows a public consultation where 90% of responses supported the removal of the legal requirement, the DHSC said. The government had indicated that the requirement might be removed in January this year, but would be subject to consultation.
The consultation received more than 90,000 responses from across the health and social care sector, as well as from members of the public.
In a statement, the Department said: “When the original decision was taken to introduce Covid-19 vaccination as a condition of deployment, Delta was the dominant variant.
“This has since been replaced by Omicron which is less severe, with the percentage of those requiring emergency care or hospital admission approximately half that of the Delta variant.”
It added that sufficient immunity had built up in the population, reiterating prime minister Boris Johnson’s earlier statement that the UK must “learn to live” with the virus.
Remaining coronavirus restrictions were lifted on 24 February, including the requirement for employees to self-isolate if they test positive for the virus and mask-wearing, although many organisations still advise staff to take some precautions.
The requirement that health and social care employees be double vaccinated caused a number of challenges for employers in the sector, with many losing staff over conflicting views on mandatory vaccination.
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the DHSC’s announcement had come too late for social care staff.
He told The Guardian: “Staff have already left residential care services and found new jobs in the NHS and home care. I seriously doubt we are going to see lots of them coming back.”
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the announcement.
“Holding the threat of losing their jobs over the heads of the small minority of staff who had not been vaccinated was the wrong approach and this decision will be welcomed by those whose jobs were at risk,” she said.
“Ministers must now urgently address the health and social care workforce crisis which is undermining nursing staff’s ability to care safely for their patients. There are tens of thousands of nursing vacancies across those services.”