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About half of staff at the UK’s largest care home provider have not yet received a Covid vaccine, as attention turns to jabs for care workers after ministers claimed to have offered first doses to almost all of England’s care home residents.
HC-One, which operates 20,000 beds, is among several care operators reporting much lower vaccine coverage among workers. Some independent homes reported last week that as many as 80% of their staff had not received a jab amid continuing concerns about cultural objections and the influence of anti-vaccination sentiment.
MHA, the largest operator of not-for-profit care homes, said 40% of its staff had not yet been vaccinated. It is launching an internal communications campaign to increase take-up. Barchester, which operates about 15,000 beds, said about 30% of staff still needed the jab. It has announced that all new staff must have had the vaccine. NHS England had hoped to have all care home residents and staff vaccinated by 24 January, but that deadline was missed.
Limited supplies, the difficulty of getting workers to vaccination stations and cultural resistance have been cited as reasons behind the slower distribution by Nadra Ahmed, the executive chairman of the National Care Association, which represents independent providers. She said that a members survey last week showed about one-fifth of carers may not have been vaccinated.
Boris Johnson called the vaccination of all care homes in England, apart from a small number deferred due to local outbreaks, “a crucial milestone in our ongoing race to vaccinate the most vulnerable”. But thousands of care home residents are yet to receive the vaccine. Barchester said that 13% of its residents had not yet received their first dose. Helen Whately, the care minister, said on Monday that the target for staff was now 15 February.
Ahmed said that when the Pfizer vaccine was used, there was often not enough left over to vaccinate all staff in homes and that those not on shift would not get the vaccine. In a few cases, GPs said they were not there to vaccinate staff at this point. She said take-up was also reduced because low-paid staff were being expected to travel to vaccination centres at their own expense and on their own time. While some operators were paying them to do so, government infection control funds were often not enough to cover the costs.
“Some people think there’s something in the vaccine,” she added. “If you are a vegetarian you fear there could be meat product in it; if you are a Muslim it might not be halal. And if you get one anti-vaxxer in a service they put doubt in other people’s minds.
“It is really important staff do their own research and if they don’t understand they must ask. No question is stupid. This is a tried and tested vaccine and millions of people have had it. It is essential for us to have the vaccine if we want to get to some form of normality.”
HC-One said that many care workers who declined vaccines changed their minds once others in their home had been vaccinated, and that it was confident it could increase the uptake rate further. It said it would also consider requiring workers to have a jab.
“Any future policy will need to carefully balance personal freedoms, and colleague and candidate medical privacy, with the need to prioritise resident safety,” a spokesperson said. “This is a conversation we’ll seek to have with our colleagues, trade union partner, and peers in the sector.”
Care homes do not make such demands in relation to the vaccine against flu, and any change would probably require legislation, said Ahmed, who said such a requirement “doesn’t feel comfortable’”. Unison, which represents care workers, said persuasion rather than coercion was the better approach.
Care homes are also at loggerheads with vaccination officials over whether the second Covid vaccine dose should be administered to residents more quickly in order to restart visits and end months of isolation that families say is costing lives.
Operators used a weekend meeting with officials to urge the acceleration of the timetable for its delivery, from 11 or 12 weeks after the first jab to three or four weeks, as was originally planned. But the government is refusing.
“We need to expedite that second dose so we can look at reuniting residents with their relatives,” said Sam Monaghan, the chief executive of MHA, which had vaccinated 88% of its residents as of Friday. Five of the remaining homes were due to receive jabs over the weekend and the last four were awaiting appointments because they had outbreaks.
“The promise was three weeks and this 11-week wait is creating unnecessary anxiety,” said Ahmed. “If we want to open up visiting we need to do this. But they seem immovable.”
Whately said on Monday she was not expecting to offer a speedier second vaccine dose in care homes, which accommodate more than 300,000 people in England. “I am not expecting to do that because we want to protect as many people as we possibly can by getting the first jab to them,” she said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Half of care home staff at UK’s largest provider have not had Covid vaccine | Society