Staff working in care homes with older adult residents in England may be forced to have the Covid-19 vaccine amid concerns around uptake, the Government has today announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care launched a five-week consultation asking for views on the scope and any potential impact of making the Covid vaccination compulsory for care home staff. This would not impact staff working with younger disabled or vulnerable adults.
It comes after health secretary Matt Hancock said on the Today programme last month that the Government was considering the proposals.
Experts from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) recommend that 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid outbreaks – but only 53% of older adult homes in England met this threshold.
Currently, the staff vaccination rate is below 80% in 89 local authority areas and all 32 London boroughs. There are 27 local authority areas with a staff vaccination rate below 70%.
Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green said his organisation would encourage members to respond to the consultation. However, he raised concerns that much of the busy adult social care sector may not have time to do so before the deadline.
He also suggested that the vaccine should also be ‘mandatory for the NHS’ and ‘those working in other care home settings’ if made compulsory for older adult care home staff.
Professor Green added: ‘The sector is divided on whether or not vaccination should be mandatory, but it is wholly united in its support for the vaccine and has done everything it can to persuade its residents and staff to have it.’
The National Care Forum also urged its members to respond to the consultation, which has ‘very significant implications for older people living in care homes and their families’.
It raised concerns about introducing compulsory Covid vaccination for care home staff ‘when older people are very likely to experience care and treatment interventions from health staff and a range of other professionals’.
The Government said the proposals will not include those who can provide evidence of a medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘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.’
The latest Office for National Statistics data shows there were 41 deaths with Covid-19 in care homes in the week ending 2 April – a 98% fall from the last peak of 1,801 deaths in the week ending 29 January.
A sub-committee paper drafted by the Department of Health and Social Care, and leaked to the Telegraph last month, predicted that ‘large’ numbers of social care workers may quit if the change is made and warned lawsuits on human rights grounds could be possible.
Last week, experts from across health and social care said the closure of the Covid-19 jab booking service to non-NHS health and social care staff risks reducing vaccination rates among priority groups.
A version of this story first appeared on our sister title, Nursing in Practice.