Trade unions have urged ministers not to go ahead with plans to make coronavirus vaccinations compulsory for care staff, after the government today launched a consultation looking at the controversial move.
The Department of Health and Social Care has said that making vaccines a condition of deployment would “help to further protect older people living in care homes, who are among the most vulnerable to Covid-19”.
Experts advising the government have said 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks, but nearly half of care homes do not currently meet this threshold.
“Making vaccines a condition of deployment is something many care homes have called for, to help them provide greater protection for staff and residents in older people’s care homes and so save lives,” Matt Hancock said.
“The vaccine is already preventing deaths and is our route out of this pandemic. We have a duty of care to those most vulnerable to Covid-19, so it is right we consider all options to keep people safe.”
While Hancock has said no decision has yet been taken, unions such as the Trades Union Congress and Labour-affiliated UNISON that represents care workers have criticised the plans that will be looked at by the taskforce.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Care workers have had a raw deal during this pandemic. While they’ve risked their lives to care for our loved ones, they’ve been rewarded with inadequate PPE, ongoing poverty pay, and no action on zero-hours contracts in the care sector.
“Today’s ill-thought through plans will be a further blow to care workers’ morale. We all want to get as many care workers vaccinated as possible. But forcing workers to get the jab will harm trust and employee relations. And it may be discriminatory, leaving
“Ministers should instead strongly encourage every care worker to get vaccinated – and make it as easy as possible. That means giving care workers paid time off for the appointments and taking away any financial worries by guaranteeing decent sick pay for any recovery time afterwards.”
Also responding to the government consultation, UNISON head Christina McAnea said: “Boosting the number of vaccinations in the social care sector is essential for everyone’s safety. But mandatory jabs are the wrong approach and a massive distraction.
“Targeting adverts at care staff, lining up already-jabbed colleagues to offer reassurance, tackling misinformation and giving staff time to make the right decision is where the government should be concentrating its efforts. It’s what’s worked in the NHS and in other countries.
“Resources should be ploughed into areas of the UK with low take-up rates to persuade rather than coerce nervous care workers. Care employers should give staff time off work to make it as easy as possible for all concerned.
“Too heavy handed an approach could backfire badly. Some staff may simply up and go, leaving a poorly paid sector already struggling with thousands and thousands of vacancies in a terrible state. That could damage the quality of care for the elderly and vulnerable, and no-one wants that.”
Care homes in England warned last month that mandatory Covid vaccinations for staff could worsen workforce shortages and threaten standards of care and advised that other approaches to tackling vaccine hesitancy would be preferable.