A SOCIAL care leader has called for coronavirus vaccinations to be made obligatory for care staff who work with elderly and vulnerable people in Wales - as they soon will be in England.
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, said the idea had been given fresh impetus after it was revealed that vaccinations would in future be mandatory for care home and domiciliary care workers in England.
According to Care Forum Wales, the Welsh Government should be taking a stronger line and insisting that people working in care homes should have the jab unless they have a medical or religious reason not to.
A number of independent social care providers in Wales have already made vaccination a condition of employment for new recruits entering the profession.
Mr Kreft said: “We have been concerned about this issue for some time and have been pressing the case with the Welsh Government because an overwhelming number of our members want this to happen.
“The roll out of the vaccine has been a huge success but it would be a big mistake to think we are out of the woods just yet.
“The emergence of the new Delta variant which is so much more transmissible than previous strains had added real urgency to this matter.
“In truth, the numbers in Wales are much better than in England and the Welsh Government must take credit for that.
“But this variant and any other mutant strains that might follow are posing a real risk to the health and well being of our residents, the majority of whom are elderly and vulnerable.
“While virtually all care home residents have been vaccinated, the inoculation is not a 100 per cent guarantee that they will not be infected.
“I think everybody who works in social care should, unless there's a very good medical or religious reason otherwise, get the jab and importantly be ready for a culture where we might have to have this each year for some years to come."
The UK Government is to announce that care home workers will be required to have mandatory coronavirus vaccinations.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is known to be in favour of the move, while England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has said doctors and care workers have a “professional responsibility” to protect their patients.
Ministers will announce the move in the coming days, the PA news agency has been told, after a consultation was carried out into using staff vaccination in England to protect the most vulnerable from Covid-19.
Consultation will also begin on whether other health and care workers should also have the jabs.
Mr Kreft added: “If the Welsh Government do not make it compulsory, there should be absolute clarity that people should take responsibility.
“At the very least, the code of conduct for people working in social care should make it clear there is an expectation for them to be jabbed.
“We’re going to need vaccine passport and we’re going to need boosters. This is going to go on for some years so we have to make sure that people realise their responsibility.
“At a time like this, we really need to be thinking of other people, not just ourselves – rather than potentially putting residents, colleagues and possibly members of our own families at risk. We should use every lever at our disposal to ensure this does not happen.
“Care Forum was ahead of the curve at the beginning of the pandemic in calling on care homes to lock down long before this was required by the Welsh and UK governments.
“We believe we now need to be proactive again so that we can continue to protect our residents and staff from this dreadful virus.”
However, the decision by the UK Government is not without controversy, with the GMB union saying that more than a third of carers would consider leaving their jobs if vaccinations become compulsory.
GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “Carers have been at the forefront of this pandemic, risking their lives to keep our loved ones safe, often enduring almost Victorian working standards in the process.
“The Government could do a lot to help them: address their pay, terms and conditions, increasing the rate of and access to contractual sick pay, banning zero hours, and ensuring more mobile NHS vaccination teams so those working night shifts can get the jab.
“Instead, ministers are ploughing ahead with plans to strongarm care workers into taking the vaccine without taking seriously the massive blocks these workers still face in getting jabbed.”