The government’s human rights watchdog has suggested it would be reasonable for care homes to make Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for staff, which could pave the way for the Whitehall to introduce new legislation for people in certain professions.
In its response to a consultation on whether vaccines should be mandatory in care settings, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said a “proportionate approach” to requiring Covid-19 jabs for care home staff could “help ease restrictions and allow them to perform their jobs safely, and residents to live more independently”.
It 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.”
If the government was to take forward plans for mandatory vaccinations among care home staff, the EHRC said it should take steps to remove the risk of indirect discrimination for workers who are unable to have the vaccine for medical reasons; ensure access to jabs is easy for all workers; and make sure there is no financial detriment resulting from having to be vaccinated, such as loss of pay if they suffer side effects and need to take time off work.
It added that any legislation should have a “sunset clause” – a date at which the requirement would cease – and should be reviewed regularly to ensure it remains proportionate. Clear guidance should also be provided to employers.
A spokesperson for the EHRC said: “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. 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 government has also been exploring the introduction of a similar requirement for health workers, with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi having suggested that it would be irresponsible not to consider compulsory jabs for NHS staff.
He told Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “It would be incumbent on any responsible government to have the debate, to do the thinking as to how we go about protecting the most vulnerable by making sure that those who look after them are vaccinated.
“There is precedent for this – obviously surgeons get vaccinated for hepatitis B. So it’s something we are absolutely thinking about.”
Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire suggested that “threatening” NHS staff would be less effective than encouraging those that had doubts about getting vaccinated.
“Given we have got a recruitment crisis in parts of the NHS, I think it’s far more important we try and work with staff rather than against them,” she said.
So-called “no jab, no job” policies for new starters have been explored by several care home operators. Care UK, one of the UK’s largest operators, has been asking all candidates at the application and interview stage whether they have had, or would be willing to have, the vaccine, while Barchester Healthcare said it would not hire staff who refuse to have a jab.