Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers: A discussion paper

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International Journal of Nursing Studies


Background: The devastating effects of COVID-19 sparked debates among professionals in the fields of health, law, and bioethics regarding policies on mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers. Suboptimal vaccine uptake among healthcare workers had been implicated in the increased risk of nosocomial spread of COVID infection and absenteeism among healthcare workers, impacting the quality of patient care. However, mandatory vaccine policies were also seen to encroach on the autonomy of healthcare workers. Aims and objectives: To synthesise the arguments for and against mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers (HCWs) and its long-term impact on the healthcare workforce, through an analysis of texts and opinions of professionals from different fields of study. Methods: This is a systematic review of opinions published in peer-reviewed journals. After initial search in Cochrane and JBI systematic review databases to ensure no previous review had been done, five databases were searched (PsychInfo, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Medline and Scopus). Inclusion criteria were: 1) focused on COVID-19; 2) healthcare workers specific; 3) specific to mandatory vaccination; 4) opinion piece with an identified author; and 5) in English. Exclusion: 1) focus on other vaccine preventable diseases, not COVID-19 and 2) discussion on mandatory vaccination not-specific to healthcare workers. The Joanna Briggs Critical Appraisal tool for Text and Opinions was used to assess quality. Data were synthesised in the summary table. Results: The review included 28 opinion and viewpoint articles. Of these, 12 (43 %) adopted a pro-mandatory vaccination stance, 13 (46 %) were neutral or had presented arguments from both sides of the debate and only three (11 %) were against. The overall arguments among those who were pro-, neutral and anti-mandatory COVID-19 vaccination were underpinned by ethical, moral and legal principles of such a mandate on a vulnerable healthcare workforce. This review highlighted the polarised opinions concerning choices, human rights, professional responsibilities and personal risks (i.e. health risks, losing a job) with the introduction of vaccination mandate. However, the articles found in this review discussed mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers in the USA, Europe and Australia only. Conclusion: The review underscores the need to balance the rights of the public to safe and quality care with the rights and moral obligations of healthcare workers during a public health emergency. This can be achieved when policies and mandates are guided by reliable scientific evidence which are flexible in considering legal and ethical dilemmas. Tweetable abstract: To mandate or not to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers: A synthesis of published opinions in health, law, and bioethics.

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