Organisations should not hastily remove Covid-19 safety measures even if a significant proportion of their employees have been vaccinated, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) has warned.
Covid-19 and return to work
Although more than half the UK population has now had at least one vaccination and restrictions have been significantly relaxed, with the government hoping to remove all restrictions on socialising on 21 June, BOHS said social distancing, testing and good ventilation should remain in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in workplaces.
There remained vast swathes of the working population that had not yet been offered a Covid-19 jab, including workers under 40 and pregnant women, it added.
Further research also needed to be undertaken into the effectiveness of the vaccine on different ethnic groups, BOHS said.
So far, 35.3 million people have received a first dose of a Covid-19 jab, while 17.6 have received their second. The number of vaccines administered has slowed over the past month due to supply issues.
The BOHS warned that simply relying on vaccination alone could contribute to outbreaks, undermine the public health benefits of the vaccine programme, and could even present legal issues for employers.
BOHS president Kelvin Williams said: “The vaccination effort has been an outstanding British science success story and will save lives of workers, particularly those exposed to the general public and those with some vulnerabilities. However, until the virus is not as widespread in the population, vaccination alone will not be sufficient.
“We are at a crucial stage in the return to work, where public-facing jobs are ramping up and with them the risk of exposure to infection. Suppressing the risk of asymptomatic infection is not only important to protect workers themselves, but also to reduce the amount of virus in circulation and the potential breeding grounds for new variants. The vaccine promises light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not out of it yet.”
Research by Oxford University has indicated that asymptomatic infection is still a risk even after a single dose of a Covid-19 jab.
“We are greatly looking forward to seeing the end of additional Covid measures, but it’s probably too early to be relaxing them, despite the general easing of restrictions in society,” added BOHS CEO, Professor Kevin Bampton.
“In social life, people can select the risks they wish to be exposed to, but in the workplace it remains the responsibility of employers to ensure those risks are managed.”