Dr NIGHAT ARIF: Any healthcare worker worthy of the name should have a jab

Back in October, an 86-year-old patient I’ve looked after for many years as his GP went into hospital for a hip replacement.

It’s a big operation, but it should have been straightforward, giving him ten more years with a better quality of life. He was looking forward to Christmas with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren free from pain. 

Instead, his family spent Christmas in mourning. This healthy, active, hard-working and much-loved family man died in hospital after catching Covid.

He was double-vaccinated (this was before boosters). He and his family had carefully followed all the pre-operation Covid procedures: he self-isolated for five days, tested daily and was swabbed for Covid before surgery, as well as for MRSA — another potentially lethal infection — in hospital. He did everything possible to protect himself.

The operation went well. But, while recovering, he started coughing, had a temperature and tested positive for Covid. He then developed pneumonia due to the infection and died, devastating his family and community.

Having the Covid vaccine is another vital part of treating patients safely. Not having it is like driving people in your car without a licence or a seatbelt: dangerous and indefensible

Had he not gone to hospital, this man would still be alive. He had no underlying health conditions apart from high blood pressure, but surgery causes trauma for the body, making you more vulnerable to infection.

We do everything we can to prevent it, using sterile equipment, masks and ventilators in the operating theatre. But it wasn’t enough.

There is now an investigation into how he caught Covid. It is certain that he caught it in hospital, either from another patient or a healthcare professional.

Tragically, there will be many similar cases of preventable deaths occurring in healthcare settings, unless all healthcare professionals get vaccinated. By April 1, everyone working in health or social care who has direct contact with patients must have had two doses of the Covid vaccine, meaning that they need to have received their first dose by February 3.

The latest data shows that across England, almost 6 per cent of hospital trust staff are still unvaccinated — as much as 10 per cent in some areas.

By some estimates, 100,000 healthcare staff are still refusing the vaccine, and hundreds even took to the streets in London, Manchester and Liverpool last weekend to demonstrate against compulsory jabs. This is absolutely wrong.

Although I am instinctively against any mandatory treatment — the foundation of medicine is that patients should be able to make informed decisions about their own treatment — healthcare professionals are in a unique position.

Our choice affects those we care for. The idea that a patient I send to hospital could die because someone caring for them infects them with Covid is appalling.

‘First, do no harm’ is the foundational motto of medicine. Anyone who does not have the Covid vaccine is rejecting that promise, exposing their patients to harm and even death.

We now have more than two years of data on Covid vaccines from around the world, showing that they are safe and highly effective in reducing transmission and hospital admission, writes Dr Nighat Arif (pictured)

We now have more than two years of data on Covid vaccines from around the world, showing that they are safe and highly effective in reducing transmission and hospital admission, writes Dr Nighat Arif (pictured)

Where is the ‘care’ in knowingly endangering patients? Where is the professionalism if they fail to safeguard them?

In Britain, we are winning the war against Covid thanks to our brilliant vaccination programme. We are in a much better position than other developed countries whose Covid restrictions are still draconian, while ours are set to loosen further still.

All those who have had the vaccine — eight in ten people aged 12 and over have had two vaccines, and more than 36,000,000 have had three — have played their part in achieving this. They should not be let down by a minority of vaccine-refusing medics.

Some argue that we shouldn’t hold clinicians to a higher standard than others. I disagree. Being a healthcare professional is a vocation, not just a job. You should never abuse your position by putting patients at wholly unnecessary risk.

We are accountable for keeping our patients safe — or face litigation or professional penalties. And part of keeping keep them safe is keeping ourselves vaccinated: that’s why healthcare professionals are encouraged to have the flu and hepatitis B vaccines, and the great majority do.

Having the Covid vaccine is another vital part of treating patients safely. Not having it is like driving people in your car without a licence or a seatbelt: dangerous and indefensible.

Many arguments against the jab have been highly misleading. Dr Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist who went viral when he harangued the Health Secretary about vaccines — and who refuses to be vaccinated — claims that there is ‘not enough scientific evidence’ to support their use.

Not true. We now have more than two years of data on Covid vaccines from around the world, showing that they are safe and highly effective in reducing transmission and hospital admission. 

We are lucky in this country to get them free. There are many countries such as Pakistan, where my family comes from, where only those who can pay can have a jab, resulting in high death tolls and overwhelmed hospitals.

Another misleading argument put forward by Dr James — and others — is that he has had Covid so has antibodies. But more than a third of people infected do not develop antibodies.

Even though vaccines do not entirely eliminate the risk of catching Covid, they dramatically reduce the chance of serious illness — and therefore help to minimise extensive ‘shedding’ of the virus.

As a consultant in intensive care, Dr James’s patients are incredibly vulnerable. Covid could easily kill them. Why put them at risk?

As we all know, you can be asymptomatic and test negative but still be infectious. In busy hospitals and GP surgeries we go from patient to patient, potentially spreading infection around.

This is why care homes require staff to be vaccinated, to protect their frail residents who suffered so terribly in the first months of Covid, before vaccinations.

Contrary to the warnings, there has been no great exodus of care home staff. Similarly, in countries where the vaccine is mandatory for healthcare workers, the predicted mass resignations of non-vaccinated professionals have not occurred.

On a normal 8am to 6pm shift I see around 30 to 40 people: patients and their families, receptionists, nurses and health visitors. The possibilities for transmissions are endless, which is why I do everything in my power to reduce the risk to patients or colleagues.

I also have a clinically vulnerable son of six. As a baby, he had a liver transplant. He often has to go to hospital for tests and scans. It petrifies me that he could be treated by someone who has chosen not to be vaccinated and catch Covid.

The biggest problem the NHS faces is the shortage of healthcare staff, exacerbated by Covid.

Shortly after New Year, almost 40,000 NHS workers were off work with Covid or isolating, on a single day. The more healthcare professionals who have the vaccine, the fewer will be absent and putting additional strain on their colleagues and patients.

Any healthcare professional worthy of the name should do what is right medically, morally and legally, and have the vaccination. If they are not prepared to put their patients’ safety first then they should consider changing their position or their career, so they are not in contact with patients.

It is all the more important that those who care for us have the vaccine now that the rules are set to relax again, meaning more mixing and more transmission. If they choose not to, then they should find another job.

Dr Nighat Arif is a GP in Buckinghamshire.

Food for your mood

How foods can affect your state of mind. This week: Brazil nuts

They are one of the best food sources of the mineral selenium — low levels are linked to lower mood. A U.S. study in the 1990s showed raising intake of selenium to 240mcg a day made men feel more confident, agreeable, elated and energetic within three months — the recommended daily intake is 75mcg for men, 60mcg for women. 

But a New Zealand study in 2014 found very high levels of selenium in the diet also increased depression so one or two Brazil nuts a day is enough.

‘Antioxidants help protect brain cells against damage from free radical molecules and this is strongly linked to depression and anxiety,’ says Mahmoud Khodadi, a pharmacist interested in how food compounds affect the brain. 

‘Selenium helps the brain produce glutathione peroxidase, one of the body’s master antioxidants.’


Medical jargon buster

Scientific terms decoded. This week: Strain versus sprain

If you overstretch and tear your muscle or tendon (the fibrous tissue that joins muscle to the bone), this is called a strain — as well as ripping the muscle and tendon fibres, sometimes the tiny blood vessels inside the muscle also break, which can cause internal bleeding, pain and occasionally bruising.

A sprain is the term for when you stretch a ligament — the strong band of tissue that attaches bone to bone, such as in a joint. This leads to swelling of the tissue around the joint, and sometimes in the surrounding muscles (due to the rush of white blood cells which try to tackle inflammation in the area).

Strains and sprains can both be caused by sudden movements, such as a fall, or by exercise. Sprains tend to take longer to heal but, like strains, will usually heal of their own accord.


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