A crucial endorsement from the UK’s human rights watchdog now means that care home workers are required to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Vaccinations may soon be mandatory in professions that come into regular close contact with vulnerable and elderly people at high risk from coronavirus. This is a decision being considered by Ministers as a further step to protect front line care workers.
A recent report to the government revealed the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recognised that compulsory vaccines for care home staff would be a “significant departure from current public health policy”.
The EHRC is likely to propose a similar recommendation about healthcare workers, after the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, advised that NHS staff could face compulsory jabs too, as some patients were “being infected in hospital”.
There is an apprehension in Whitehall about forcing anyone to have a Covid-19 injection, given the fear that this could make people who are already hesitant even more resistant to take up the vaccine.
The EHRC pointed out that some demographic groups that were less likely to get vaccinated were “disproportionately represented in the adult social care sector workforce”. They said the mandatory vaccination could further risk excluding these groups “from access to employment”, therefore a proportionate approach with safeguards would be required.
A parallel concern was raised in a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that found care workers who felt under pressure to get a vaccine from their employers were consequently more likely to decline it.
To confront undue discrimination, the EHRC has advised that people who can not get injections for medical reasons should be exempted, and that no one should “face any financial detriment” because of having the vaccine.
It was additionally raised by the EHRC that statutory sick pay (capped at £96.35 a week) may be “deterring workers from being vaccinated because they cannot afford to take sick leave if they have side-effects”. Further adding that with a quarter of the social care workforce on zero-hours contracts, many might not even be entitled for the state financial support.
Labour has commented “threatening” people over vaccination is “not a good idea”. The shadow Commons leader, Thangam Debbonaire, said: “Given we have got a recruitment crisis in parts of the NHS I think it’s far more important we try and work with staff rather than against them.”