Some speakers in the debate, including BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, stressed the motion was not about mandatory vaccination, but other doctors argued that voting for it was effectively 'giving the green light' to making vaccination compulsory for medics.
The government is currently looking at proposals to make flu and COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all frontline health and care staff and launched a consultation on the issue last week. Meanwhile, new regulations that make COVID-19 vaccination a requirement for anyone working in a CQC-registered care home, including GPs and other primary care staff who visit sites, come into effect on 11 November.
A total of 73% of delegates at the online BMA conference voted in favour of the motion saying that the conference believed 'all doctors should be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless there is a medical contraindication'. Some 23% voted against and 4% abstained.
Proposing the motion, BMA council member Dr Jacky Davis said that vaccines were 'all that stand between us and Armageddon in the NHS', given that the government in England had rolled back public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
'It's vital that as many people as possible are vaccinated, particularly healthcare staff,' Dr Davis said.
'Patients have a right to feel safe, and more importantly to be safe when they see us. Patients, especially those who can't be vaccinated or whose immune systems are weak, must not feel they're in danger from the staff who care for them.'
She added: 'As things stand the best way to protect ourselves, our colleagues, our patients is to get vaccinated. But what happens when reasonable alternatives have been explored, and people still refuse? Then vaccines must be made mandatory for those who want to stay on the front line. It should be a last resort, but it has to be an option.'
Dr Sarah Jones from the BMA's consultant committee said that while she would prefer all doctors to be vaccinated this was 'not the same as the BMA as an organisation, saying that all doctors should have the vaccine'.
'These are competent adults who should have an absolute right to choose whether to consent to medical intervention,' she said. She added that people could still transmit COVID-19 after having the vaccine and a focus on other measures to control the spread of the virus was important.
GP Dr Debs White from Cleveland LMC argued that doctors should support the motion in order to highlight their confidence in the vaccine. 'I really think we should pass this and send a message that the BMA and doctors support COVID vaccination - and support it to protect us, to protect our patients. Vaccination is a good news story, and to me this motion would be more good news.'
However, GP Dr Zishan Syed, a member of the BMA's South East Coast Regional Council, said he was concerned that doctors were being 'coerced' into being vaccinated, which was unethical.
'My concern is that there's too much emphasis about vaccines at the expense of PPE,' he added. 'It's my personal belief that the government has been negligent in terms of PPE provision, but instead it deflects attention on to clinicians themselves. And I believe that if you pass this motion, you're going to give the green light for them to make vaccinations mandatory.'
Dr Nagpaul said that the motion under debate was not focused on mandating vaccination and the BMA supported the position that all doctors 'should' have the vaccine unless there was a medical contraindication.
He added: 'We shouldn't just be talking about double vaccinations. We must make sure we have COVID secure healthcare settings, because otherwise you almost run the risk of giving the impression that doctors being double vaccinated can go to work, and somehow everything's okay.
'But in fact, you still can get COVID after a double vaccination, and you still can actually transmit. All of those other measures must take place as well.'
The motion in full:
That this meeting believes that all doctors should be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless there is a medical contraindication.