Care home workers in England could be legally required to have a Covid-19 vaccination under plans being considered by the government.
According to details of a paper submitted to the Covid-19 operations cabinet subcommittee last week and leaked to the Telegraph, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, have agreed to the proposal in order to protect vulnerable residents.
The move would prove highly controversial and could result in legal challenges. The cabinet subcommittee paper warned a large number of social care workers may quit if the change is made, and said that lawsuits on human rights grounds could be possible. A government spokesman insisted “no final decisions have been made” but did not rule out jabs being made compulsory for care workers. The government is also reviewing the introduction of vaccination passports.
If the change is approved it would affect most of the 1.5 million workers in England’s adult social care sector, who would be obliged by law to have a Covid jab.
The paper also makes clear that a similar legal requirement is being considered for some frontline healthcare workers, including those on wards, but a decision on that has yet to be taken.
One line is said to read: “The prime minister and the secretary of state [Hancock] have discussed on several occasions the progress that is being made to immunise social care workers against Covid-19 and have agreed – in order to reach a position of much greater safety for care recipients – to put in place legislation to require vaccinations among the workforce.”
Legally forcing workers to have a vaccine raises serious legal and ethical questions. Government ministers including Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, have previously called similar ideas mandating vaccination, including vaccine passports, “discriminatory”.
A previous report of a government plan to force all NHS and care staff in England to get vaccinated was criticised as “sinister” by Unison. “Forced vaccinations are the wrong way to go, and send out a sinister and worrying message,” said Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, which represents about 100,000 NHS staff.
The plans emerge amid concerns over low vaccine take-up among staff in care homes who look after those who are among the most vulnerable to Covid-19. Last month, one of the UK’s largest care home operators, Care UK, instituted a ‘no jab, no job’ policy, demanding that all new staff be vaccinated before starting work. The move followed Barchester, which said it would insist current staff are vaccinated, warning that if they “refuse … on non-medical grounds [they] will, by reason of their own decision, make themselves unavailable for work”.
A government spokesman said: “The review into Covid status certification is considering a range of issues. No final decisions have been made.”