Health and social care workers to be fully vaccinated in 2022 (unless exempt)

Information from the government states that health and social care providers in England will be required to ensure workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they are exempt, under plans announced by the Health and Social Care Secretary. Exemptions include: terminal illness, a learning difficulty, autism or allergy to vaccine. However, the requirement, if passed, will only impact from April 2022.

The government says:

Ensuring the maximum number of NHS staff are vaccinated will help ensure the most vulnerable patients gain the greatest possible levels of protection against infection. Elderly people, those with disabilities and some seriously ill people in hospital face a higher risk from COVID-19 than the wider population, and are more likely to use health and care services more often.

The measures will also protect workers, which is important for hospital trusts where extensive unexpected absences can put added pressure on already hardworking clinicians providing patient care.

The vaccination programme has been successful in weakening the link between infection, hospitalisation and deaths. Findings from the REACT study have shown fully vaccinated people were estimated to have around 50% to 60% reduced risk of infection, including asymptomatic infection, compared to unvaccinated people.

The regulations will apply to health and social care workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with people while providing care – such as doctors, nurses, dentists and domiciliary care workers, unless they are exempt.

They will also apply to ancillary staff such as porters or receptionists who may have social contact with patients but are not directly involved in their care. This will apply across the CQC-regulated health and social care sector.

The majority of NHS workers are already vaccinated, as over 92.8% have had their first dose and 89.9% have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. In social care, 83.7% of domiciliary care workers have had their first dose and 74.6% have had both doses.

Latest published data shows, however, that over 103,000 NHS Trust workers and 105,000 domiciliary care workers have not been reported as fully vaccinated and the government is urging them to take up the offer now, to keep themselves and those they care for safe.

However, the requirements will only come into force in the spring, subject to the passage of the regulations through Parliament.

There will be a 12-week grace period between the regulations being made and coming into force to allow those who have not yet been vaccinated to have both doses. Enforcement would begin from 1 April, subject to parliamentary approval.

This will allow time for health and social care providers to prepare and encourage workers uptake before the measures are introduced.

There is a longstanding precedent for vaccination in NHS roles. Workplace health and safety and occupational health policies are already in place to ensure those undertaking exposure-prone procedures are vaccinated against Hepatitis B – such as surgeons, because of the potential health risk.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:

Vaccines save lives and patient safety is paramount. Many of the people being treated in hospitals or cared for at home are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We have a responsibility to give patients and staff the best possible protection.

We have consulted closely with the sector and will introduce new regulations to ensure people working in healthcare are vaccinated from next spring.

I want thank everyone who works in health and social care for the amazing work they do. If you haven’t come forward for your jab yet, please do so. We are determined to support you in this process.

Data from UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalisation from the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant. The analysis shows the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalisation after two doses.

Early results from Pfizer show that a booster following a primary schedule of the same vaccine restores protection back up to 95.6% against symptomatic infection.

Affected workers will have the coming months to prepare and the government and NHS continues to work to increase uptake, including among groups where uptake is lower, and to make every effort to ensure NHS and social care workers have the support they need this winter and into the future.

 

While the policy will not apply to COVID-19 boosters or the flu vaccine at this time, the government will keep this under review, and if necessary, bring forward amendments to the regulations.

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