Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Vaccinating health workers

Physician, heal thyself? Leaving healers at risk of covid-19 is unacceptable

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 05 February 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n325
  1. Gordon Muir, consultant urologist1,
  2. Jonathan Boff, reader in the history of warfare2
  1. 1King’s College Hospital, London SE5 9RS, UK
  2. 2Department of History, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  1. gordon.muir{at}

We read the reports from Israel suggesting that one dose of Pfizer vaccine could be less effective than expected with disquiet.1

NHS staff are being vaccinated for covid-19 with a single dose, as if they were members of the ordinary population rather than uniquely exposed to the virus. This approach is out of step with practice abroad and unsupported by evidence. Healthcare workers might die as a result.

Several professional bodies have already raised concern over the scientific basis for modifying dosage schedules. Neither of us has the expertise to comment on the epidemiological arguments. But there is another aspect to this, which carries with it both moral and practical imperatives for the government.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, British soldiers were expected to make do with second rate kit, including not enough helicopters, poor communications gear, and under-armoured vehicles. Only the professionalism and dedication of our service people, and an outcry at home that pushed the Ministry of Defence to rush through new procurement, maintained high standards of performance and prevented serious morale problems.23 Soldiers fight better if they know they and their mates will be protected and looked after if wounded. But individual courage should not have to make up for substandard materiel.

To ask NHS workers to potentially risk their health and that of their families and patients, by under-immunising them is similar. Like soldiers in wartime, they accept the risk of injury or death, but they have a right to expect to be given the best protection and weaponry available.

“Physician, heal thyself” is generally seen as a warning from Jesus against hypocrisy. But when it comes to covid-19, leaving the healers at risk is both practically and morally unacceptable. NHS workers should not have to make do with modified vaccination. Their loyalty and ability to perform to their best is being unfairly tested.


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