The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have launched a 5-week consultation today on whether staff in care homes with older adult residents in England, will be required to have a Covid-19 vaccine to protect residents from the virus.
Making vaccines a condition of deployment could help to further protect older people living in care homes, who are among the most vulnerable, with some providers already implementing similar policies.
This will not include those who can provide evidence of a medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccinations.
The consultation will help inform decision-making around how the change could be implemented and whether respondents think it will be beneficial.
The aim is to seek views on the proposal, its scope, any potential impact it could have on staffing and safety as well as how it is implemented and who could be exempt.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Older people living in care homes are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19 and we have seen the grave effects the virus has had on this group.
“Making vaccines a condition of deployment is something many care homes have called for, to help them provide greater protection for staff and residents in older people’s care homes and so save lives.”
Experts on the social care working group SAGE, have made the recommendation for 80% of staff and 90% of residents to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of Covid-19.
At the moment 53% of older adult homes in England are currently meeting the threshold, meaning nearly half of all care homes with older adult residents are not meeting the requirements for care homes and staff.
Currently the staff vaccination rate is below 80% in 89 local authority areas – more than half – and all 32 London boroughs. There are 27 local authority areas with a staff vaccination rate below 70%.
The vaccine has already had a significant impact on reducing hospitalisations and deaths, with more than 10,000 lives saved between December and March.
Chair of the Adult Social Care Covid-19 Taskforce, David Pearson said: “I would like to thank all our social care workers for providing care and support during the last very difficult year, for having the vaccine and supporting people who have social care services to be vaccinated.
“It is absolutely vital those who have not yet taken the opportunity to have their vaccine do so to keep themselves and those they care for safe.”
NHS England has already been running a minimum 4-visit schedule for each older adult care home with hundreds of vaccination centres across the country, to make vaccinations as easy as possible.
This will build on the successful rollout of priority vaccinations in care homes, with more than 40 million vaccinations given.
All eligible care homes have been visited and vaccines offered to staff and residents, with the vast majority of homes having now had repeat visits.
Barchester Healthcare chief executive Dr Pete Calveley said: “Barchester believes the vaccination programme has transformed the outlook for the vulnerable residents in older people care homes - a significant proportion of whom will not acquire full immunity despite being vaccinated.
“We have not lightly introduced our vaccine policy, but we take the view that providing safe care for those we care for is our paramount obligation.
“As the Chief Medical Officer has said, it is a professional duty for care home staff to accept the vaccine unless there is a medical reason they should not.”
Staff, providers, stakeholders, residents and their families are being urged to take part to have their views heard with a final decision expected this summer.