Mandatory Covid vaccines for care workers

16 June 2021

The government are preparing to announce a mandatory covid vaccination for all care staff caring for older people with staff being required to have the jab within the next 16 weeks or face the consequences.

The Care sector is facing a recruitment crisis and experts predict the new rules are likely to impact on an already struggling industry.

The announcement is a result over concerns of low take-up of the vaccine in some areas. The government refer to the legal requirement for doctors to have the Hepatitis B vaccine as a precedent although, whilst this is recommended in the Public Health England Green Book (which provides the latest information on vaccinations), that “Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for healthcare workers ….”, it is not strictly a legal requirement. Some hospital trusts’ recruitment policies do, however, make the guidance obligatory.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) consulted on the issue of take up of vaccines for care staff and said that 47% of English care homes for older people had more than a fifth of staff yet to take up the vaccine.

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said it encouraged members and other colleagues to take up the vaccine but warned compulsion was “a blunt instrument that carries its own risks”.

From an employment perspective, what are the risks?

Mandatory vaccination could be indirectly discriminatory against certain protected characteristics. For example;

• employees may refuse the vaccine for mental health reasons, or due to a phobia of needles, although it’s worth noting that workers who can prove they are medically exempt from getting the vaccine will not be affected by the compulsory rules.
• pregnant women or woman trying to conceive may be concerned over contradictions in government advice and be cautious about being vaccinated; it may be indirectly discriminatory to pregnant woman to impose a mandatory requirement to be vaccinated or not hire a woman because she refuses the jab because she is trying to conceive.
• There may also be racial reasons or religious beliefs why a person would object to a vaccination.

Further, a vaccination requirement may be difficult to justify on health and safety grounds because the current advice is that vaccination is not a substitute for workplace COVID-secure measures which must still be complied with not to mention data protection implications of requiring employees to provide information on their vaccination status, verifying its accuracy, and retaining that data.

There is a fine line between protecting our elderly and imposing a compulsory requirement to be vaccinated and the move by the government is likely to receive substantial backlash, not least from an employment perspective.

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