Proposals to introduce mandatory vaccination for care staff are an “appalling” idea, a specialist care leader has said.
The comment came from Neil Russell, head of PJ Care, a provider of care for adults with degenerative conditions such as dementia, Huntingdon’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and those with acquired brain injuries. The company employs 250 staff at its Eagle Wood care centre in Peterborough plus a total of 220 staff at its two centres in Milton Keynes.
The majority of the team have been vaccinated but Neil says they won’t make it a condition of employment.
“I’m pleased to the see that the government has launched a consultation, rather than just pushing ahead with this, but I am appalled by the idea of making vaccinations mandatory. It would only cause unnecessary and irrevocable damage to a sector that has suffered more than most during the pandemic. There are many reasons staff may have for waiting to have the vaccine, or even refusing it altogether – being pregnant is one example as there is not yet enough evidence to determine the safety of the vaccines for expectant mothers. In the UK, vaccinations are well-established but that’s not the case for all cultures, some of which have experienced historical misuse of vaccines that still give cause for concern today.
“It is a case of trust. This mistrust can be overcome, but only through time and demonstration of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Making it mandatory will only increase the mistrust.”
The Department of Health and Social Care is considering compulsory vaccinations for staff in settings caring for at least one person over the age of 65 as this age is group is more at risk from coronavirus. The Social Care Working Group of SAGE has advised that an uptake rate of 80% in staff and 90% in residents in every care home would be needed to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of COVID-19. At the beginning of this month, the vaccination rate among care home staff stood at 78.9% with figures in some regions being considerably lower.
Neil Russell, who was the first of his staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccination at Milton Keynes Hospital, says making vaccination compulsory would have disastrous effects on the industry.
“The sector could lose enough staff to embroil an already underfunded industry in a recruitment war as homes seek to fill vacancies. This would result in financial problems for many homes, causing closures and people in need of care having nowhere to go, but into hospitals that are already struggling with bed availability.
“We must ask why the government is only looking at imposing the vaccine on care workers in homes with anyone over the age of 65 and not elsewhere such as homes with younger vulnerable adults or hospitals where patients are more vulnerable. Not enough is known about the vaccine yet to be able to evidence its effect on transmission rates so even with all staff vaccinated, the risk to those in their care remains the same and staff will still need to wear full PPE and follow strict infection control measures.
“While vaccinating care workers is important, greater protection can be achieved by ensuring the residents are vaccinated, combined with diligent infection control measures and effective use of PPE. That’s the way I believe we will best protect the vulnerable in all our care facilities.”