Staff in care homes with older adult residents in England may be required to have a Covid-19 vaccine.
Health bosses say making vaccines a condition of deployment would help to further protect older people living in care homes, who are among the most vulnerable to Covid-19, with some providers already implementing similar policies.
Experts on the social care working group of SAGE advise 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of Covid-19.
Only 53% of older adult homes in England are currently meeting this threshold. This means nearly half of all care homes with older adult residents, home to 150,000 vulnerable people, don’t meet SAGE’s recommended vaccination thresholds for care homes and staff.
Currently, the staff vaccination rate is below 80% in 89 local authority areas – more than half – and all 32 London boroughs. There are 27 local authority areas with a staff vaccination rate below 70%.
The vaccine has already had a significant impact on reducing hospitalisations and deaths, with more than 10,000 lives saved between December and March but as we progress through the roadmap and restrictions begin to ease, it is vital we continue to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus.
A five-week consultation will be launched today looking at requiring care home providers, caring for older adults, to deploy only those workers who have received their Covid-19 vaccination to further protect residents who are among the most vulnerable to Covid-19, and staff.
This will not include those who can provide evidence of a medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination.
Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care Forum welcomed the news but questioned how effective a mandatory vaccination policy will be if it only applies to one cohort of staff working with older people.
‘There has been much speculation about the government’s plans to mandate vaccination for care staff working in older people’s care settings.
‘It is not clear how it can be possible to focus mandatory vaccines on only one cohort of staff working with older people when older people are very likely to experience care and treatment interventions from health staff and a range of other professionals.
‘This consultation has very significant implications for the older people living in care homes and their families, the organisations who run care homes and the staff who work in them, so we urge them all to respond to the consultation to make their views heard.
‘Our shared aim must remain to focus on what works to make sure that as many people as possible in social care are able to have the vaccine.’
Care England also welcomed the opportunity to respond to the government’s consultation but expressed concern about the short timescales.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, says: ‘We have been really impressed how care providers have worked with their staff to listen to their concerns about the vaccine and this has had a very positive effect with a good take up.
‘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.
‘Should the vaccine be mandatory for adult social care staff working in care homes for older people it begs the question of whether it should not be mandatory for the NHS, those working in other care home settings, supported living, hospices, etc as well.
‘We maintain that ease of access to the vaccine is crucial in terms of enabling and encouraging staff to have it. We would recommend that on such an important issue where there are differences of opinion there should be a full consultation rather than a curtailed timescale.
‘We will be encouraging our members that provide services for older people to respond, but with so many competing priorities they may not be able to do it justice in such a short time.’
With some providers already implementing similar policies, the consultation will help inform decision-making around how the change could be implemented and whether respondents think it will be beneficial.
The consultation will seek views on the proposal, it’s scope, any potential impact it could have on staffing and safety as well as how it is implemented and who could be exempt.
Staff, providers, stakeholders, residents and their families are being urged to take part to have their views heard with a final decision expected this summer.
Barchester Healthcare chief executive Dr Pete Calveley said: ‘Barchester believes the vaccination programme has transformed the outlook for the vulnerable residents in older people care homes, a significant proportion of whom will not acquire full immunity despite being vaccinated.
‘We have not lightly introduced our vaccine policy, but we take the view that providing safe care for those we care for is our paramount obligation.
‘As the Chief Medical Officer has said, it is a professional duty for care home staff to accept the vaccine unless there is a medical reason they should not.
‘As time has progressed, the safety, efficacy and transmission-reduction evidence has become ever stronger, which supports our initial view.
‘For those reasons we support the proposal by the DHSC to open a consultation on this important matter and strongly encourage other providers to support this proposal.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘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.’
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