Care home staff 'have a duty to get the Covid vaccine'
Boss of care home chain with controversial ‘no jab no job’ policy says Covid vaccines should be made compulsory for workers because they have a ‘duty’ to protect vulnerable residents
- Pete Calveley, CEO of Barchester Healthcare, said all staff must get vaccinated
- He has seen infection rates drop by two thirds among staff who had the jab
- Government is considering making it mandatory for carers to get the vaccine
- NHS data show that in England only 76% have taken up the offer since December
Care home staff have a ‘duty’ to get the Covid vaccine to protect their residents from the coronavirus, says the boss of a firm with a controversial ‘no jab no job’ policy.
Pete Calveley, CEO of Barchester Healthcare, said the human rights of people living in care homes were at stake and staff must protect them.
The firm was one of the first to announce that it would not hire any new carers who haven’t been vaccinated and all existing staff must get a jab by the end of April.
Ministers are considering making it the law for carers to have the jab amid concerns that not enough of them are taking up the offer.
Hesitancy is thought to be high among care staff because many of them are from low income or less educated households or black or ethnic minority communities. All of those groups are known to be more likely to refuse a vaccine.
Mr Calveley said the safety of his residents is a higher priority than people’s personal choice not to have a jab and that he hoped the government would make it the law.
He said the policy has only had a ‘tiny impact’ on the number of people accepting or applying for jobs and said some people had applied because they liked the rule.
Care home workers are in the top priority group so have been able to get a jab since December. But NHS data shows only around 76 per cent of them have done so, with this dropping as low as 40 per cent in some parts of London.
Pete Calveley, CEO of Barchester Healthcare, said the human rights of people living in care homes were at stake and staff must protect them by getting vaccinated against coronavirus
NHS data show that fewer than half of care home staff have been immunised in some areas – with uptake worst in London – despite jabs being available to them since December
The government could make it a legal requirement for care workers to get vaccinated, Matt Hancock has confirmed (Pictured: A man gets vaccinated in London)
Covid can ‘spread like wildfire’ in care homes, Mr Calveley said, and the residents have one of the highest death risks in the world.
The Care Quality Commission, the care home regulator, says more than 41,000 people living in homes in England have died of Covid since the pandemic began.
Vaccines can protect people living in the homes, most of whom are very elderly and have dementia or other health problems, but only if uptake is high.
Data from NHS England show that only one out of 10,413 care homes in the country had not been visited by a vaccination team and 94 per cent of all residents have had at least one dose of a jab.
But the rate is much lower among staff – 76 per cent have had a first dose, meaning one in four have not done it in the three months since the rollout began.
There are still around 112,000 unvaccinated carers working in homes, the figures show.
‘In the end, it is a hugely difficult decision,’ Mr Calveley told BBC Radio 4.
‘We have an overriding responsibility and a statutory duty to keep our residents as safe as possible, and that is in law.
‘We also have to understand human rights and we have to understand employment law.
‘But we believe that the risk to our residents – and the demonstrable increased risk if you have not had a vaccination – trumps all of that.’
WHY ARE PEOPLE WORRIED ABOUT VACCINES?
One reason some people are fearful of having a vaccine is the risk of side effects.
Side effects are normal because the vaccines trigger the immune system, which is how they work, and the immune system is usually what causes symptoms of illness.
Things like fever, aches, headache and tiredness are all normal signs that the immune system is reacting to something and are often caused jabs but are not serious. They tend to clear up by themselves within days, and can be controlled with drugs like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
A tiny proportion of people suffer more severe side effects, such as going into shock or having a severe allergic reaction, but this is extremely rare and usually only happens in people with a history of bad reactions.
Everybody who receives a jab on the NHS is monitored for at least 15 minutes to make sure they don’t have a bad reaction, and vaccination teams have treatments on hand to help if this happens.
Part of the reason for young women being concerned is understood to be myths about the vaccine affecting fertility or the health of unborn babies.
Although vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women, this is only because they have not been trialled on them specifically – the same reason children are not eligible for the jabs.
There is no evidence to suggest the vaccine would be capable of harming an unborn child – and certainly not any more than the real coronavirus – but it is not being given to pregnant women out of caution.
And on long-term effects on fertility, Professor Van-Tam said no vaccine has ever led to infertility and there was no reason the Covid ones would do so.
ONLINE CONSPIRACY THEORIES
Online conspiracy theories also claim that jabs have tracking microchips in them, contain animal products or use cells from human flesh – none of which are true.
Experts have called for spreading lies about vaccines online to be criminalised, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it ‘total nonsense’.
He said that all Barchester staff get tested three times per week and only five per cent of them tested positive after being vaccinated, compared to 15 per cent of unvaccinated workers.
‘There is three times the risk of bringing it into a care home,’ he said.
All staff at the homes had been given regular meetings to discuss any concerns about the vaccine and for bosses to encourage them to get the jab.
They were shown data proving the jabs were protecting their colleagues as evidence came through that they were testing positive less often, and even invited to seminars with scientists to talk through the vaccines, he said.
Mr Calveley’s comments come as the government is reportedly considering making it a legal requirement for care home staff to get vaccinated.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday confirmed that it could happen because ministers are concerned about low uptake rates.
Mr Hancock admitted mandatory vaccination was ‘something we are looking at’ and claimed ‘many’ care homes have supported the proposal.
He scolded carers who have turned down their jab appointments, warning that they ‘have a duty of care not to pass on the disease’ to frail residents.
His comments came after a leaked paper submitted to the Covid Operations Cabinet committee showed Mr Hancock and Boris Johnson both had agreed to compulsory jabs for care staff.
Mr Hancock told LBC: ‘On this one, no decision has been taken, but it is something that we are looking at.
‘Because people who are looking after elderly residents in care homes, who we know to be the most vulnerable to Covid, they have a duty of care not to pass on the disease and it is a reasonable question.’
He said ‘many’ care homes had asked for this to happen, adding: ‘There’s a legal change that’s required and, as you can see, I’m open to that, but no final decision has been taken.’
NHS England figures show, nationally, just 76 per cent of care home workers had their first dose of a Covid vaccine by March 14 — the most recent day local data is available for.
But the data — which break up the country into 150 areas — shows uptake of the life-saving vaccine among carers varies widely across the nation.
Lambeth in south London has the lowest proportion of care home staff vaccinated, with an uptake rate of just 42.6 per cent.
In comparison, seven areas have vaccinated more than 85 per cent, with Blackpool inoculating 1,466 of its 1,678 carers.
The proportion of people opting in to the vaccine rollout is even lower for carers working in people’s own homes, with less than a third accepting a jab in Barnet (28.5 per cent) and Bexley (32.4 per cent).
All staff in care homes should now have been offered a first dose of the vaccine, with England’s Covid vaccine roll-out officially widened to all over-50s last week — the last priority group set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
TOP TEN AREAS IN THE COUNTRY FOR CARERS’ COVID VACCINE UPTAKE
BOTTOM TEN AREAS IN THE COUNTRY FOR CARERS’ COVID VACCINE UPTAKE
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