Leaked documents suggest that all care home workers across England could be legally obliged to have the coronavirus vaccine.

The cabinet subcommittee paper, which was leaked to the Telegraph, reveals that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, have agreed to make jabs a legal requirement for some key workers, in order to keep vulnerable adults safe.

The documents suggest that this is due to a lack of vaccine take-up amongst care home workers. For a care home to be deemed safe in England, 80% of staff have to be vaccinated, as well as 90% of residents. However, the paper reveals that few care homes have reached this target.

Matt Hancock admitted to the BBC this morning that the government is “thinking about a compulsory vaccine”, although nothing is confirmed yet. He went on to say: “There is a duty of care that people have if you work in an elderly care home, after all, residents of elderly care homes are the most vulnerable of all to Covid.”

He has previously stated that the general public will not be subject to a compulsory vaccine.

The law could see thousands of care workers quit their jobs

Nadra Ahmed, Chair of the National Care Association, described the matter as a “challenging issue.”  She explained that the rights of the workforce must be maintained and that care workers should be persuaded that the vaccine is for their own benefit, rather than coerced.

Some 1.5 million people work in England’s adult social care sector. All of these people would therefore be obliged by law to take the vaccine.

The paper warned that a large number of social care workers might quit if the law is bought in, and said that lawsuits on human rights grounds are possible.

The documents also suggested that the compulsory vaccine could be considered in other areas too, such as for some frontline workers who work on wards. However, a decision is yet to be made on this matter.

Why is vaccine take-up low in care homes?

According to government data, vaccine take up is lower amongst Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers. Since care homes have a relatively high percentage of workers from the BAME community, this could partly explain why vaccine targets in care homes were not being met.

Moreover, many care home workers are young people who have not yet had their vaccine.

Other possible factors are concerns over having the jab while pregnant (due to a lack of data) and misinformation about the vaccine which we know is in wide circulation both on and offline.

This introduction of a mandatory vaccination for some key workers is undoubtedly going to prove controversial. With numerous care workers already voicing their concerns, it is important to consider why so many people are vaccine hesitant.  

The GMB Union says they have repeatedly highlighted the barriers that need removing for care workers to get the vaccine, including the lack of full sick pay provision for potential side effects.

“A heavy handed approach will cause unnecessary anxiety and discontent”

They say a “heavy handed, we-know-best approach” will cause unnecessary anxiety and discontent when care workers are still fighting pandemic.

Kelly Andrews, Lead Social Care Officer, said: “GMB has encouraged members to get vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as they can. We have repeatedly told Ministers we expect the Government to act so that no workers suffer a financial detriment as a result of getting the vaccine - especially those priority workers in social care and elsewhere.

 “Ministers have repeatedly refused to listen and talk now of imposing a blanket legal change forcing care workers to get vaccinated. This is more shoddy behaviour from a Government that have long lost the trust of the social care workforce.

“In the last twelve months since the first national lockdown, care workers have had to deal with the fallout from a litany of failures from the Government: the PPE scandal, the shifting of vulnerable hospital patients into care homes, the reams of conflicting guidance that government have put out.

 “The least they could do through the vaccine rollout is try to gain the confidence of the workforce and work with us to remove the barriers to getting vaccinated.  A voluntary line of action which ensures care workers get full sick pay for potential vaccination side effects, support services to talk through workers concerns.

“We need our care workers valued, recognised and rewarded - not strong armed or bullied with threats of the law.”