Care home staff could be required by law to have a Covid-19 jab under plans being considered by the Government.
Health secretary Matt Hancock argued on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning there was a ‘clear precedent’ for mandatory inoculation because ‘that sort of approach is already in place for doctors’ who ‘have to have the hepatitis B vaccine’.
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff who may have direct contact with patients’ blood are recommended to have the hepatitis B vaccine, while many employers require it.
Mr Hancock continued: ‘There’s a duty of care that people have if you work in an elderly care home. After all, residents of elderly care homes that are the most vulnerable of all to Covid.’
He was speaking after a paper submitted to the Covid-19 Operations Cabinet sub-committee last week was leaked to the Telegraph and published. It showed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock requested the legal change.
The proposed move, likely just for England, comes amid concern at low Covid vaccine uptake among care home staff who work with populations particularly vulnerable to the virus. The latest NHS Digital figures, from 18 March, show 75.6% of eligible staff in older adult care homes have been vaccinated.
But the sub-committee paper, drafted by the Department of Health and Social Care, also predicted that ‘large’ numbers of social care workers may quit if the change is made and that lawsuits on human rights grounds could be possible.
The paper is reported to have said: ‘The Prime Minister and the secretary of state have discussed on several occasions the progress that is being made to immunise social care workers against Covid-19 and have agreed – in order to reach a position of much greater safety for care recipients – to put in place legislation to require vaccinations among the workforce.’
But Mr Hancock added to the Today programme: ‘This is something that we’re considering but we haven’t made a final decision on, and we do want to hear from care homes and indeed care home staff on this question.’
In a tweet yesterday, Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady warned such a suggested law change could be ‘discriminatory’ and damage trust and employee relations.
She added: ‘Employers should encourage their workers to get vaccinated and make it as easy as possible – for example, by giving paid time off for appointments.’
Another report this month of a government plan to force all NHS and care staff in England to get vaccinated was also criticised as ‘sinister’ by Unison.
The union’s general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘Forced vaccinations are the wrong way to go and send out a sinister and worrying message.’
Last month, minister for Covid vaccine deployment Nadhim Zahawi called similar ideas for compulsory vaccination ‘discriminatory’ while explaining why the Government was not considering introducing vaccine passports proving an individual has been inoculated.