CARE home staff will soon be “legally required to get a Covid jab” to protect residents under new plans.
Ministers are set to confirm they are pushing ahead making Covid vaccinations mandatory for most of the 1.5 million people working in social care in England.
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They are also considering extending the move to all NHS staff, the Guardian has reported.
The divisive measure is expected to set up a battle with staff in both services.
It could also lead to the government being sued under European human rights law or equalities legislation, if it were considered to breach the freedom of those in caring roles, to decide what they put in their bodies.
Employer and staff organisations in the sector have reportedly warned the plan could backfire if workers quit rather than getting immunised.
Under the plans, those working with adults will have 16 weeks to get vaccinated, or face losing their jobs.
At the moment, just over half of older adult care homes are meeting targets to have 80 per cent of their staff vaccinated so they can keep the people they work with safe.
It means that 150,000 vulnerable people could be at risk as their homes don't meet SAGE's targets, ministers have previously warned.
The vaccine is already being credited with saving more than 10,000 lives between December and March thanks to Britain's speedy rollout.
But this will be the first time ministers will look at whether to force people to get the jab.
Boris Johnson has been said to be keen to make it illegal for health staff to refuse it.
Those who have a medical condition or allergy and can provide proof will be exempt.
It likely will only apply to older-resident care homes, so those working in ones with disabled or younger people won't be forced to get the jab.
The government is also keen to make both the Covid vaccine and the winter flu vaccine mandatory for the 1.38 million people who are directly employed by the NHS.
These proposals have already been criticised by groups representing doctors, nurses and other NHS staff.
In the coming days, the Department of Health and Social Care will launch two separate consultation exercises into making these two jabs compulsory.
However, ministers including Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, believe the arguments in favour of protecting patients from potentially infectious staff, outweigh those giving health workers the freedom to make the decision themselves.
Hancock said yesterday: "Older people living in care homes are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19 and we have seen the grave effects the virus has had on this group.
“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 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.”
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, warned on Tuesday that “compulsion is a blunt instrument that carries its own risks”.
“While some healthcare workers are already required to be immunised against certain conditions to work in certain areas, any specific proposal for the compulsory requirement for all staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 would raise new ethical and legal implications,” it said.
And the NHS Confederation, the group representing health service trusts in England, said plans to make immunisation compulsory were “unlikely” to be welcomed.
One NHS boss said: “If you are going to go down this route of mandation for NHS staff, you will get into a direct confrontation with a group of staff who you’re forcing to do this at a time when you’re denying them a decent pay rise but also saying how much you love them.
“The government hasn’t thought through the consequences of this. Hospital trusts could end up having to suspend or even dismiss members of staff who continue to refuse to be vaccinated against Covid in defiance of a policy requiring them to get jabbed,” the senior figure said.
The government was pressing ahead with mandatory Covid vaccination, despite the fact the latest figures showed 89% of NHS staff had had their first dose as of June 6, and 82% were fully vaccinated.
However, take-up had been lower among social care staff, with statistics showing 83.7% of staff in adult care homes had received one dose by June 6, and 68.7% were fully vaccinated.
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There were concerns from hospital bosses around the possibility of “difficult conversations” with black and minority ethnic staff, as well as young female employees worried about the Covid vaccines affecting their fertility.
The move is part of an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in care homes and hospitals, by staff who are infected.
Minutes from the latest meeting of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies show the group is also particularly keen to see hospitals take action to reduce hospital-acquired Covid, which has led to the deaths of at least 8,700 inpatients since the pandemic broke out last year.