I am concerned about the potential of mandatory vaccinations for care home workers. While I firmly believe that vaccines are the most effective public health intervention against COVID-19 – both to protect people against the virus and to enable restrictions to be lifted – I recognise that some people are vaccine-hesitant. Some people might simply not want to have it and others have may have concerns about safety.
Vaccines teach the body’s immune system to recognise and fight the infection they have been designed to protect against. Approval is only given if the UK regulator – the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – is satisfied that the vaccine is both safe and effective.
Care Homes are one of the areas of highest risk in regards to COVID-19, and therefore safety measures should be taken very seriously. It is important that all staff who want a vaccination are able to get one and this should be a clear priority for the Government. Ideally, I want to see everyone working in a care home to take up the vaccine, but I am not inclined to support proposals for compulsory vaccination. This view is shared by UNISON, who believe that mandatory vaccinations are a counterproductive measure, which could drive the problem underground.
I am hearing serious warning signs directly from the care sector, who are warning against the Government’s plans. With potential implications of staff shortages, which we can not afford while tackling this global pandemic.
The UK Government should learn from the fantastic work of the Labour-led Welsh Government which is running the fastest vaccine programme in the world and vaccinated a far greater proportion of its staff compared to England. This success is in part due to the Welsh Government are working hard to myth-bust false information about the COVID-19 vaccines. Public Health Wales has FAQs about the vaccine, safety and fertility.
It is clear to me that the way forward is not via the blunt instrument of mandatory vaccination, instead, we need to focus on tackling misinformation and promoting the benefits of vaccination. Care home workers have given a lot to their communities over the last 15 months, and now we need to support them. The Government should be focused on driving up standards and retention of staff by treating care workers as the professionals they are with improved pay, terms, conditions and training.