The British government has launched a consultation on whether to make vaccines mandatory for frontline workers at seniors’ care homes in England.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the five-week consultation on Wednesday, following leaked reports last month that the government was considering the move. If approved, the rules could be in place by the Summer.
Launching the consultation on Wednesday, Mr 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.
“The vaccine is already preventing deaths and is our route out of this pandemic. We have a duty of care to those most vulnerable to Covid-19, so it is right we consider all options to keep people safe.”
Those who work in care home services or in homes with younger disabled or vulnerable adults would not be subject to the rules.
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi clarified on Wednesday afternoon that the consultation will consider whether vaccination becomes a “condition of deployment”, rather than employment.
“Our consultation is focused on the condition of deployment, and I’m being very clear here: this is not a condition of employment, it’s a condition of deployment in terms of if you are coming into contact with very fragile, frail people who, if exposed to COVID, could likely kill them.
“It’s only right and it’s only responsible for us as a government to consult on this.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said in December that vaccines should not be mandatory in the United Kingdom, saying: “I strongly urge people to take up the vaccine but it is no part of our culture or our ambition in this country to make vaccines mandatory. That is not how we do things.”
A government spokesman had also told the press in February that a “no jab, no job” policy would be “discriminatory”, saying: “Taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.”
The five-week consultation is far shorter than the usual 12 weeks. Professor Martin Green, chief executive of the trade organisation for adult care facilities Care England, theorised that if vaccines are mandatory for care home staff, they may become obligatory for those working in other health and care settings, as well.
“Should the vaccine be mandatory for adult social care staff working in care homes for older people it begs the question whether it should not be mandatory for the NHS, those working in other care home settings, supported living, hospices, et cetera as well,” Professor Green said, according to The Times.
While the government has said that the consultation will be focusing on deployment rather than employment, the possibility of “no vaccine, no job” was first mentioned with any significance in the private sector by London plumbing mogul Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers in January, when he announced that he was speaking to lawyers over making vaccination a condition of employment.
While there have been questions over the legality of demanding vaccination as a condition of employment, a government source told media in February that it believes employers may be able to fire staff that refuse the jab if it can be deemed a requirement under health and safety rules.
“Health and safety laws say you have to protect other people at work, and when it becomes about protecting other people the argument gets stronger,” the source said.
Law firms have said they have been contacted about writing up contracts requiring inoculation. The public also seems to signifiacantly back employers demanding staff be vaccinated, with 49 per cent supporting the power for employers with only 36 per cent against.