Compulsory vaccines for care staff

But should children also get the jab?

To jab or not to jab? The crucial, and frequently controversial, question for individuals since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. When their age group’s turn came, the majority of the UK’s adult population went for it, with a gradual dramatic fall in coronavirus cases and deaths. Others, for various reasons, have chosen not to be vaccinated. Now though, that choice is being taken away from some, with the government set to change the law to make vaccination compulsory for those working in the care homes sector. And though contentious, the move has received the backing of the UK’s human rights watchdog group, the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The EHRC judged that ministers were correct to “prioritise the right to life for residents and staff ” in care homes and that, subject to some safeguards, it would be reasonable to require workers to be vaccinated in order to “work directly with older and disabled people”. Staff exempt from vaccination for medical reasons will not be obliged to have a jab.

The government is also keen to introduce mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, as well as winter flu jabs, for the 1.38 million directly employed by the NHS, after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi suggested that some patients are “being infected in hospital”. And with the announcement by the UK medicines watchdog that the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine has been approved as safe for twelve to fifteen year-olds, there will undoubtedly be calls for the over-twelves to receive the jab in the campaign to stave off a third wave.

The Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said a “rigorous review” of the safety, quality and effectiveness of the vaccine for this age group had been carried out with the conclusion that the benefits outweighed any risk. It will be for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to decide when younger teenagers can receive the vaccine as part of the jabs rollout.

The Pfizer vaccine is already approved for over-sixteen-year-olds, although the current vaccination programme includes adults only. Despite vaccinations for twelve to fifteen-year-olds also approved in the USA and by the European Medicines Agency, there are opponents amongst global health leaders, notably the head of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has stressed that all available vaccine supply remains urgently needed worldwide, for adults in low and lower-middle income countries.

What our surveys show

Whilst vaccine take-up amongst NHS workers has generally been high, particularly with those in frontline roles, there have been concerns over the care homes sector, where many workers are members of BAME communities, where there is a higher level of hesitation regarding vaccination. In our survey a clear majority 61%, were in favour of compulsory vaccination for all care homes workers with just 22% against. A relatively high 17% were “don’t knows”, possibly signalling the doubts many feel over compulsory vaccination.

There is less overall certainty about supporting the idea of vaccination for the over-twelves, with 41% giving a definite “yes” and 37% replying “unsure but probably yes”, with men slightly more in favour than women. Those giving a definite or probable “no” were far fewer in total, but the “don’t knows” indicate that more women than men are undecided on this matter. And when it came to the question of compulsory vaccination for all unless there is a preventative medical condition, just 35% said “yes” with 50% answering “no” and 15% replying “don’t know”. But there were significant differences of opinion between men and women and between generational groups.

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