Human rights watchdog says it's 'reasonable' to make carers get jabs

Forcing care home workers to get Covid jabs IS ‘reasonable’, says UK’s human rights watchdog in reply to official consultation on law change

  • Equality and Human Rights Commission responded to public consultation on law
  • Said it was ‘right to prioritise protection of the right to life for residents and staff’
  • Government is expected to decide on the policy by the end of July this year
  • Vaccine uptake is lower than average among carers, at 83 per cent in England 
  • By comparison, 95 per cent of residents in the homes have had at least one dose 

Forcing care home staff to get vaccinated against Covid is ‘reasonable’, the UK’s human rights watchdog has ruled.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) gave its blessing for the policy which is being considered by ministers.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed in April that the Government would look at making vaccines mandatory because it was concerned that uptake was below average despite it being especially important because residents are so high-risk.

There were concerns about whether it was ethical to force anyone to get a vaccine but the EHRC said it was ‘right to prioritise protection of the right to life’.

More than 29,000 people have died in care homes in England since the start of the pandemic and elderly people face a significant risk of dying if they catch the virus.

Despite this, only 83 per cent of England’s 473,000 care home staff have had their first vaccine dose even though they have been eligible since December. 

In all over-50s age groups more than 90 per cent of people have had a first dose, for comparison. And only six out of 10 carers (64 per cent) have had a second dose, which is thought to be necessary to stop the now-dominant Indian variant.

The Government is holding a consultation on whether to make Covid vaccines mandatory for care workers and the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it would be ‘right to prioritise protection of the right to life for residents and staff’ (Pictured: A carer gets a jab in Hertfordshire in February)

 

‘Requiring care home staff to be vaccinated offers a way of protecting older residents who are most at risk of severe illness and death due to Covid-19,’ said a spokesperson for the EHRC.

‘This would support their right to a private and family life, to health, to live independently, as well as reducing the risk to workers.

‘Any requirements should be implemented proportionately with exemptions for the small number of people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

‘Mandatory vaccination it is not a new idea, as some NHS Trusts do require staff to have hepatitis B vaccines.’

The policy was floated when it emerged that care home workers were avoiding taking up the vaccine offer and were less likely than average to get a jab. 

Carers often fall into other groups that are separately found to be less likely to get vaccinated, such as being of a younger age, living in a low-income area or being from an ethnic minority background.

Employers have tried to boost vaccine coverage among their staff and some have even put in place ‘no jab, no job’ policies.

ALL OVER-18s TO GET VACCINE OFFER ‘WITHIN WEEKS’

Ministers are preparing to offer vaccines to all over-18s within weeks to help halt the spread of the Indian variant.

So far only adults aged 30 and over have been invited for their jabs and health leaders are focusing their efforts on giving older people their second dose.

But it is understood officials are planning to open up the eligibility to all age groups amid concerns the Indian strain – which has been renamed as the ‘Delta variant’ – is spreading very quickly among the young.

In a speech today Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised the country’s ‘extraordinary vaccine heroes’ — including healthcare staff and volunteers. 

Government figures today showed three quarters of adults have had one dose and almost half have had a second dose. 

108,607 first doses were dished out across the UK yesterday, taking the country’s total to 39.6million. 

And another 338,565 second doses were also given out, meaning nearly 26.1million people are fully vaccinated in the country (49.5 per cent).

NHS England’s lead for the vaccination programme, Dr Emily Lawson said the three-quarter mark was ‘another huge milestone’ and added: ‘The Covid-19 vaccine is our most effective weapon against coronavirus and there has never been a more important time to get protected.’ 

Mandatory vaccines could mean that only staff who have been vaccinated are allowed into a care home and those who haven’t would be refused work.

The Department of Health launched a public consultation on the policy earlier this year and are expected to come to a decision by July.

SAGE has said at least 80 per cent of staff and 90 per cent of residents need to be immunised to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid outbreaks.

Mr Hancock said carers had a ‘duty of care’ to the elderly people they worked with, suggesting it would be irresponsible for them not to get a jab.

The sector is divided on the issue and Kelly Andrews, organiser at the GMB workers’ union, said in April: ‘Mandating vaccination is an incredibly bad idea. 

‘There will undoubtedly be care workers who cannot receive the vaccine due to health or pregnancy reasons, and they will be left outside of the scope of the scheme.’

In a submission to the Government consultation the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: ‘In legislating for mandatory vaccination the Government is right to prioritise protection of the right to life for residents and staff.

‘In our view it is therefore reasonable to require care home staff to be vaccinated in order to work directly with older and disabled people, subject to some important safeguards to ensure the requirement remains proportionate and to minimise the risk of unlawful discrimination or breaches of care workers’ human rights.’

It said that if vaccination was made law for care workers it should not be permanent and should have a ‘sunset clause’ requiring that it have an expiry date or need to be extended after a certain amount of time.

NHS England statistics show that, by May 23, 392,112 out of 472,534 care staff in homes for older adults had had their first vaccine dose (83 per cent).

And 300,636 had had both doses by that date (64 per cent). 

This varied across regions and just 75 per cent of care workers in London have had a jab, meaning one in four is still unvaccinated.

Coverage was highest in the North East & Yorkshire and in the South West, where more than 85 per cent were protected and almost seven in 10 fully immunised.

By comparison, 95 per cent of residents had been vaccinated with one dose and 86 per cent with two.

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