The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) met with social care leaders yesterday (June 16) “to brief them on the announcement”, a spokesperson told C+D.
The DH spokesperson said they believed any meeting with pharmacy representatives would take place ahead of a further consultation, which the DH will launch “in due course” to decide whether to make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all staff working “in health and care settings”.
It was announced yesterday that anyone working in a CQC-registered care home in England will be required by law to be immunised against COVID-19 from October, unless they are medically exempt, following a 16-week grace period to enable health workers to receive both doses. This includes pharmacists who work in care homes, even on a part-time basis.
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies, told C+D yesterday that its members were “highly committed to helping the government achieve its goals regarding the health and safety of the communities we serve”.
“If we are approached by the DH on this subject, we will do everything we reasonably can to help them,” Dr Hannbeck added.
“Educated choices more beneficial than enforcement”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said on its website that it “actively and strongly encourages all pharmacists to take advantage” of the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, it does not “agree with making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, as informed and educated choices about health interventions would be more beneficial long-term than enforcing them”.
The RPS noted that pharmacy teams have been “working hard to vaccinate as many people as possible”, and that “all members of the pharmacy team should have any vaccine deemed necessary to help protect themselves, their patients and the wider community”.
65% of care homes in England meet safety requirement
The social care working group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) believes an uptake rate for one dose of 80% in staff and 90% in residents in care homes is needed to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of COVID-19, the DH said.
“While the majority of care home workers have now been vaccinated, only 65% of older care homes in England are currently meeting the minimum level of staff uptake for one dose needed to reduce the risk of outbreaks in these high-risk care settings”, according to the DH. This falls to 44% of care homes in London.
Helen Whately, the minister for care, said: “It’s only right that we take every possible step to protect those most at risk now and in the long term.”
Vaccinating NHS staff
Speaking on Marr on Sunday last month (May 30), the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi suggested that “the whole of the care and healthcare system” may have to be vaccinated. It would be “irresponsible” for the government not to ask the question, he said, adding that “there is a precedent for this”.
“Surgeons have to be vaccinated for hepatitis B before they can practise as surgeons,” Mr Zahawi said. “Rightly so, because there is a responsibility to protect those that are most vulnerable.”
The DH consultation on mandating COVID-19 vaccinations in care homes attracted more than 13,500 responses, the DH said in its response. The majority of the respondents, 57%, said they did not support the proposals, which were instead mostly welcomed by care home providers.
Some respondents flagged concerns that limiting mandatory vaccinations to care homes would “risk establishing double standards for NHS staff and care staff”.
A breach of human rights?
Suzanne Staunton, partner at JMW Solicitors, described the new measures as “a very bold move”.
“If employers propose to make vaccinations mandatory, they may find they face employment claims for discrimination. Additionally, they may face accusations of infringing employees’ human rights and civil liberties,” she said.
Employers “will need to establish that it is reasonable, justifiable or proportionate and necessary to impose the compulsory requirement and that they have express consent from the employee to take the vaccine,” Ms Staunton said.
“However, very few employers, sectors, and industries will be able to show that it is reasonable, justifiable or proportionate and necessary to make vaccinations mandatory across a workforce.”